Summary: Unlike modern promoters of goods and services, who shade the truth, Jesus’ commissioning of his disciples was candid and complete -- with both warnings and promises.
Truth in Advertising
Some years ago there was a film about a group of crazy people – I think that was the title of the film: Crazy People – in which a group of patients in a mental institution began to write advertising. As I recall, the writing of ads was supposed to be therapy, but somehow their work got out of the institution and into the market place.
What made their ads so successful – in the film, that is – is the wildly comic notion of telling the truth about the products advertised. One ad, for example, for Volvo automobiles, had this headline: Volvo: Boxy but Good!
The one that always stuck with me was this ad copy for Metamucil:
“Metamucil: it makes you to go the toilet. If you don’t use it, you’ll get cancer and die!”
Now, the premise of the film is that advertising is almost never candid about the nature or purpose of the product or service being offered. At our house, in those rare times when we watch television, we have often played a game we call “What Are They Selling?” It makes a good game, because television commercials very frequently show us images and sounds and messages which have almost nothing at all to do with the product or service being advertised.
So, we think it hilarious when we are presented a film in which the advertising is candid and straight-forward. We’ve probably seen ads for Volvos – and in those ads they are as boxy and stodgy and ugly as they always are, but nothing is ever said about this. And, the ads for Metamucil – well, the ones we see on television or in magazines are full of elderly people in smart casual sports clothing, playing croquet or golf, or strolling through parks, with huge smiles on their faces, and some voice-over announcer talking about active lifestyles of carefree fun. The closest these ads ever get to candor is when some oblique reference is made to avoiding bloat, cramps, and gas.
Well, if I could avoid bloat, cramps, and gas, I’d smile too, wouldn’t you?
I don’t think Jesus’ disciples were smiling when they heard what he had to say in the gospel appointed for today. These words are part of Jesus’ commissioning the original Twelve to go out among the Jews and to proclaim the gospel. We looked at some of these words last Sunday, and here are some more of them today. Like that advertising in the film, Jesus’ words are startlingly candid, but they’re not all that funny, unless we find ourselves chuckling in ironic amazement.
What we find here would come near the top of a list with the title “Difficult sayings of Jesus.” But, they are not really difficult to understand. They are quite clear and to the point. What makes them difficult is that we do not often wish to hear them. But as they are the conclusion of Jesus’ first commissioning of his disciples, we should heed them, and our first effort in this direction should be take them seriously, as applying as much to ourselves as to those original twelve disciples.
What many do not recognize is the context in which Jesus uttered the warnings that begin in verse 34.
34"Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. 35For I have come to "set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; 36and "a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’
I trust that you will recognize in Jesus’ words here a clear allusion to the OT lesson we heard read a while ago, from Micah chapter 7. In that passage of Micah, the prophet pours out a lament about the pervasiveness of corruption and degradation that has infected Israel.
2The faithful man has perished from the earth, And there is no one upright among men.
They all lie in wait for blood; Every man hunts his brother with a net.
And, on he goes, until he reaches this conclusion:
6For son dishonors father, Daughter rises against her mother, Daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; A man’s enemies are the men of his own household.
Jesus’ point in making this pointed allusion to the prophet Micah is to tell his disciples that this is the kind of environment in which they are going to commence their preaching ministry. And, of course, the picture we get in the gospels about the spiritual climate of Israel in the First Century is pretty much as Micah was complaining about.
Are all times like these? No. There have been periods of history when Christians have definitely not faced the kind of rotten situation that Micah describes. There have been times of relative peace, relative righteousness – not absolute spiritual perfection, of course – but certain times when the mind of this culture or that culture was relatively sound and healthy. In those times, the preaching of the gospel did not face the kind of opposition, it did not generate nearly the intensity of hostility that Jesus is describing here.