Summary: Jesus’ instruction, warning, and encouragement for the Disciples’ first evangelisitc mission applies to all future service to Christ in this world.
Matth 10:16-33 Fourth Trinity 2005
We have all heard the expression about the weather in parts of Texas: if you don’t like it, just wait an hour or two and it will change. I heard the same thing this past week in New England, where the weather is changeable because of the constant interaction of the land-mass and the sea. On the other hand, there are some places where the weather almost never changes. I lived in one of these for a year, in southern California. Oddly enough, the sea is given credit for the amazingly stable climate in Southern Orange County. I can remember week after week of exactly the same weather.
Some things are always changing. Other things seem never to change. And, we have one of those before us in the gospel lesson for today. In chapter 10 of his gospel, Matthew reports the time when Jesus sent the original 12 disciples out to preach the good news to the nation Israel. They were to go only to the Jews, not to the Gentiles, nor to the Samaritans who were half-Jewish and half-Gentile. The situation was, in many respects, unique. It was the maiden voyage, so to speak, for the disciples. But, when Jesus sent them out he gave them advice on how to proceed, he gave them warnings about what they would find, and he gave them encouragements about the trouble they were going to face.
Jesus first words of advice were these: 16"Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” I have read several commentators and teachers who suppose that Jesus here compares the disciples to sheep to make the point that they were stupid. Indeed, I’ve read accounts of shepherds who are candid about the foolishness of sheep. Granting that these shepherds’ insights are all accurate, I don’t think that is exactly Jesus’ point in this passage. Clearly, as we scan down through what he tells his disciples, the mention of sheep and wolves has far more to do with the dangers the disciples are going to face when they go about their work of evangelism. The whole enterprise, Jesus tells them, will be much like sending a pack of sheep into the midst of wolves. In such a case, what are you going to expect? Well, of course – it is going to be an attack from the wolves.
Before going on, I must say confess that the view of evangelism that says we must tailor the gospel for seekers must be talking about some sort of parallel universe. Wolves are seekers, of course. But somehow I cannot imagine Jesus advocating a form of preaching the gospel that would be attractive to wolves. If you’re a sheep, you don’t need to make yourself attractive to a wolf. You are already attractive to wolves, and they will eagerly attack you and kill you and eat you alive.
Dropping the figures of speech, Jesus makes it crystal clear what the disciples are going to encounter: “ 21"Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. 22And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake.” You see, family ties are ordinarily thought to be the ones which are strongest, the kinds of bonds which withstand the greatest strains. But, when it comes to the preaching of the gospel, even these bonds will evaporate, and the hostility against the gospel will take its place.