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When Jesus initially called the disciples, it was a simple invitation, "Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men and women." It was a new job opportunity, if you will, and Jesus took them through a training period. They sat at his feet. They learned from him. They watched him perform miracles. They went with him into the highways and to the byways, and they began to understand what this ministry that Jesus came to do was all about. And it had been a time where they could ask questions and he would answer.
But beginning in chapter 10, Matthew shows us that something changes. The disciples move from being those who sit with Jesus and learn from Jesus to now being sent forth into the world. Jesus sends them out to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons, to be about the work of ministry, to be about the business of partnering with the Divine in the liberation work of rescuing and redeeming humankind.
And Jesus tells them, "It's serious work. And as you go out, I need you to understand some things. I need you to undergo a radical reorientation of how you look at life, at how you look at this mission. You're gonna go out, but don't think that life is going to be any different for you than it has been for me. The student is not greater than the teacher. The servant is not greater than the master." There's a temptation to sometimes believe that when Jesus calls us to follow him, to live in relationship with the Divine, that it somehow or another creates for us a zone of acceptance, a zone of comfort, a zone of chosenness that we are not to have to live with the challenges that Jesus had to live with.
But our first reorientation is of our own self-perception. Jesus does not call us into a ministry of accolades and popularity. It is not a ministry of prosperity and abundance, and we will not be exempt from public ridicule and opposition. Someone once said that if everyone likes what you're doing, then you must be doing something wrong. Jesus calls us to understand in new ways what it means to be his disciples -- the cost that we will have to undergo. It is not an invitation for honor and glory but for sacrifice and suffering. We begin to reorient ourselves and our self-perception helps us view life through the lenses of Christ's life. It is a call to radical obedience. It is a call to be obedient even when the world turns against you, even when the world rejects your message.
Dr. Delores Williams, professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, talks about the fact that the crucifixion of Christ was a result of his radical obedience to the will of God. We must have a reorientation of our self-perception to understand that when we are obedient to God's will, it does not necessarily make us popular; it may, in fact, cost us our life. But that leads to the second reorientation.
It is the reorientation of our perception of persecution. If we're honest, no one likes opposition. No one likes to try to do what they've been called to do and have to deal with opposition on every hand. No one wants to have roadblocks; no one wants to be accused of things that are not their intent. But Jesus is saying to the disciples, "Don't be afraid. Don't be afraid of those who will oppose you, for your life is so much more valuable than you can even imagine." If you are to carry forth the ministry of Jesus Christ, you will place yourself in the presence of powerful opposition. Paul tells us in Ephesians 6: "We wrestle not with flesh and blood, but with principalities and rulers and evil in high places." When we understand that we are about the ministry of Jesus Christ, we have placed ourselves in the position to undergo persecution, and we ought not desire premature martyrdom. That is not what we are called to be about, but Jesus is commanding the disciples not to be held hostage by fear. Fear is a powerful thing. Fear can hold people in bondage so that they cannot move out.
It has been told often among slave narratives that when the slave master was to punish a slave, they would call a whole community out, and particularly women who were pregnant, so that they could watch the beating as a means of instilling fear into an entire community because evil understood that where fear reigned, God's people would not move.
The mystic theologian Howard Thurman in his book Jesus and the Disinherited speaks to this issue of fear and how we counter fear as we seek to minister and do the work of God in our lives. Howard Thurman writes, "To the child of God, a scale of values becomes available by which men are measured and their true significance determined. Even the threat of violence with the possibility of death that it carries is recognized for what it is: merely the threat of violence with a death potential. Such a man recognizes that death cannot possibly be the worst thing in the world. There are some things that are worse than death. To deny one's own integrity or personality in the presence of the human challenge is one of these things."
Jesus is saying to the disciples and Jesus says to us, "Do not be afraid of that which you can see, but be afraid of the One who has eternal control over you." It is a radical reorientation of how we understand persecution, but it is also an invitation to a radical reorientation of our perception of peace.
Jesus said, "I did not come to bring peace, but I came to bring a sword." Now that's hard for us to comprehend because we like to talk about the Prince of Peace. But Jesus is saying to the disciples and saying to us that peace is not the maintenance of the status quo. It is not the absence of conflict, but peace is the refining practice of all that is not part of God's righteous realm, so that righteousness and justice may reign. Peace is the realignment of our priorities and our relationships.
Now let me say parenthetically, it is not an invitation to abandon or neglect family commitments, but it is to see all relationships through the lens of Christ's call upon our lives. Very simply, anything that becomes more important than my mandate for you, the mission that I have called you to, is not worthy of your full attention or allegiance. Peace becomes redefined when we realign our priorities and our relationships, and we begin to see all of these relationships according to God's design for our lives.
There is a creative tension that we do not avoid. There is a creative tension that we do not sidestep. There is a creative tension that causes us to strive for the highest common denominator, not the lowest. The radical reorientation of our perception of peace means that we begin to seek shalom, the wholeness of God amongst the people of God. And sometimes that puts us in conflict with those who are closest to us, and Jesus says work through the conflicts, but don't stop what I've called you to do.
And then there's a radical reorientation of our purpose. We no longer live our lives for our own comfort or our own ease, but we understand that we are called to radical obedience, even at the cost of persecution. There's a radical boldness that comes over us when we dare to stand firm, we dare to proclaim and to do the work that God is sending us to do, and our relationships become radical, as they become a reflection not of what we want but of God's highest purpose for us. It's not an easy place, but Jesus is sending us on a mission. He's sending us to go forth and to be about the business of curing the sick and raising the dead, of bringing new life to the outcasts, of having authority over that which would hold us in bondage. And he sends us with the authority to be radical, knowing that never again will we be the same for we will discover the depths of new life as we surrender life as we know it, as we risk giving up all that we would hold dear and move forward allowing ourselves to go through a radical reorientation of our perception, our persecution, our perception of peace, our purpose for life, knowing that in the end, new life will be ours.
Gracious God, it's not easy doing what you've asked us to do, but because you go with us, we dare to submit ourselves to your work in our lives. We thank you for your Holy Spirit which allows us to have courage to stand firm, to die to ourselves, to rise to you, and to do the work you have called us to. In the name of Jesus, the living and resurrected Lord, we pray. Amen.
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