Monday, May 11, 2009

The Cost of Discipleship (Matthew 10:34-38)

Some commentaries on Matthew 10:34-49

10:34. Throughout the next section (vv. 34–39) the focus is upon the absolute priority of one’s relationship to Jesus (note the personal pronouns “I,” “me,” and “my”). The tone of the section is set by Jesus’ startling announcement that the purpose of his coming was not to bring peace, but a sword. The words are intended to counter the faulty notion (μὴ νομίσητε, mē nomisēte, cf. 5:17) that Jesus’ messianic vocation means that an era of peace and tranquility has now come. Although some Jewish traditions anticipated an age of peace when the Messiah arrives (see Isa 9:5–7; 11:6; 66:25; Zech 9:9–10; 1 Chr 22:9; cf. Luke 2:14), the peace that Jesus offers does not insure the absence of conflict or social disruptions. In fact, Jesus has not come to bring a stability associated with the absence of fighting, but rather his presence provokes a hostility associated with open warfare. The symbol of the “sword,” not the “dove,” is more appropriate when describing the impact of Jesus’ messianic vocation. The metaphor of “sword” is not intended to convey the use of violent force, but symbolizes divided loyalties, even within family units, because of the demands of the kingdom. As the next two verses make clear (vv. 35–36), the closest of human relationships are sometimes divided by the “sword” that Jesus brings.
10:35–36. Jesus’ coming has the effect of turning members of the same household against one another. Using the language of Micah 7:6 (see v. 21), Jesus envisions discord and animosity among family members because the message of the kingdom places people in a crisis of decision, either for or against. Basic conventional norms and loyalties are shattered by the priority of the kingdom of God as announced by Jesus. There is no neutrality or mutual toleration, one either responds favorably to the message or violently rejects it. The result is that a man’s enemies will be members of his own household. Such disruptions are inevitable in households because light and darkness cannot mutually coexist.
10:37. In the midst of such conflict and the loss of familial security it is tempting to compromise one’s loyalties. However, Jesus insists that absolute priority must be given one’s relationship to him, even over family ties. In other words, when the “sword” of the kingdom results in family divisions the disciple must make his allegiance clear. The failure to be aligned with Jesus, even against family members, means the forfeiture of one’s status as a disciple (=not worthy of me). Jesus’ demand of total allegiance on such a personal level is certainly unprecedented within the rabbinic tradition.
10:38–39. The extravagant devotion called for by Jesus in verse 37 is graphically spelled out in verses 38–39. The vivid metaphorical reference to taking up one’s cross captures the imagery of a condemned man forced to carry the means of his own execution. Jesus charges the one who would follow him to actively take up the cross and follow him in a voluntary act of self-denial and obedience. Their solidarity with Jesus demands that the disciples walk the same path of sacrificial obedience. As noted by Hagner: “Taking up one’s cross refers not to the personal problems or difficulties of life that one must bear, as it is sometimes used in common parlance, but to a radical obedience that entails self-denial and, indeed, a dying to self. To take up one’s cross is to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, who is the model of such radical obedience and self-denial (cf. 4:1–11).”11 With these words Jesus has provided the most explicit reference to the violent fate that awaits him (cf. 16:21–24). The paradoxical saying of verse 39 reinforces the message of verse 38 and puts it into proper perspective.12 If the disciples are to emulate Jesus’ sacrificial ministry they must embrace a perspective wherein “life” for Jesus’ sake is perceived as of greater value than even one’s physical life. While alignment with Jesus may result in the sacrifice of one’s present life, in the end the faithful disciple reaps the reward of eternal life. It is thus in the interest of life in the fullest that the disciple fearlessly faces the prospects of death.
11 Hagner, Matthew, p. 293.
12 Weaver, Missionary Discourse, p. 116.
Chouinard, Larry: Matthew. Joplin, Mo. : College Press, 1997 (The College Press NIV Commentary), S. Mt 10:34

The Cost of Discipleship

It was generally believed that there would be great sufferings before the end, and that the Messiah would lead his people in a triumphant war, followed by a time of peace. Jesus assures his listeners that the promised era of peace is yet some time off and goes on to explain the nature of the current sufferings and conflict.

The context of Micah 7:6, cited here, describes the awful evils in the land and the untrustworthiness of even the closest relatives and friends that would continue until the Lord would come to vindicate those who hoped in him. Given the belief held by many Jewish people that a time of sufferings would precede the end, the disciples would probably have understood this saying as suggesting that they were already experiencing the sufferings of that time.


Jesus here expounds on the text just cited (Mic 7:6) to make a point virtually inconceivable to most of his hearers. Loving family members, especially parents, was one of the highest duties in Judaism; the only one who could rightfully demand greater love was God himself (Deut 6:4–5; cf. Deut 13:6–11; 2 Macc 7:22–23).

A condemned criminal would carry on his back the horizontal beam of the cross out to the site of his execution, generally amid an antagonistic, jeering mob. This verse means a shameful, painful road to a dreadful execution.

Most Jewish people contrasted the life of this world with the life of the world to come.

Keener, Craig S. ; InterVarsity Press: The IVP Bible Background Commentary : New Testament. Downers Grove, Ill. : InterVarsity Press, 1993, S. Mt 10:32-39

A Price to Pay 10:34–39
As noted above in the preview of the unit, verses 34–39 stress the high cost of following Jesus. Matthew has combined several shorter sayings here (cf. Luke 12:49–53; 14:25–33; 17:33). In the first saying (vv. 34–36), Jesus speaks of the conflict (sword) that his mission evokes and contrasts this with the peace expected in the messianic era (cf. Isa. 9:2–6). The source of this conflict is the need to decide for or against Jesus, which divides households right down the middle. As a result, family members may turn against each other, a situation described with language from Micah 7:6 (cf. v. 21).
The second saying (vv. 37–38) continues to address the topic of family opposition, making it clear that discipleship must take precedence over all other relationships (cf. the even stronger language in Luke 14:26). In this saying we find the first of two references in Matthew to taking up one’s cross (cf. 16:24). Here the metaphor denotes a readiness to endure family hostility—and the violent end to which that ultimately might lead. The final saying, on finding and losing one’s life (v. 39), is found in one form or another in all four of the gospels (cf. Mark 8:35; Luke 17:33; John 12:25). According to Jesus, faithful witnesses who endure maryrdom will find life anew in the kingdom. Those who deny Jesus to preserve their lives, however, will lose the life that matters most.

Gardner, Richard B.: Matthew. Scottdale, Pa. : Herald Press, 1991 (Believers Church Bible Commentary), S. 178

Friday, May 1, 2009

Constantine and Christianity

Dr Greg Clarke of the Centre for Public Christianity discusses Constantine and early Christianity with Emeritus Professor Edwin Judge. This is just one of a number of interviews with Professor Judge on a number of historical issues and their relation to Christianity which can be found here.