Who reads the fine print? You know the stuff I mean – all the tiny writing, the details of contracts, all those paragraphs we are told to tick online to say that we’ve read, understood, and agreed to – all those three or thirteen extra pages in small writing that come with purchases; the stuff the makes your eyes glaze over; the material you hope you will never have to actually read at some stage. Fine print stuff tells you the real deal and maybe some of you do read it all but I’m guessing no one really does anymore. However if you have to read it, my guess is, then things are not going all that well!
Our third reading today is the last section of Matthew 10 (we’ve been hearing it the last few Sundays) and the whole chapter is what I might call the ‘fine print of discipleship’. They are the instructions and words Jesus gave to the Twelve. Here we listen to a Jesus that almost warrants a parental guidance warning; an unnerving Jesus. This Jesus describes the world of his followers as sheep among wolves and goes to some detail to make it clear … you will be dragged before authorities family members will turn you in – to the point of death
you will be hated because you trust Jesus and his name there’s no macho stand and fight here, if you can flee when persecution comes, stay alive if you can they’ve called me a devil, don’t expect pleasantries don’t fall away, don’t be afraid – they can only kill the body – fear he who kills body and soul – but trust that God the Father cares for you I haven’t come to bring peace to earth but a sword – not even family is to take precedence over me and following me and don’t expect families to accept that lightly take up your cross, follow me lose your life and you will find it those who receive you receive me and that means that you will have support from others here on earth but they may well be strangers to you (initially) and the support might only be a cup of water – but you will not be alone
I remember a woman hearing this gospel and coming to me seriously shaking her head, “Jesus wasn’t serious, was he?”. For her the fine print about family was simply shocking, almost unbelievable, as if she suddenly saw a side of Jesus not hitherto seen before, a side she decided she wasn’t sure of, a side of Jesus she didn’t like.
Jesus makes some pretty exclusive claims about himself and his call to discipleship is all embracing and scary. Bonhoeffer described it this way: When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.1 This will be death to self and it could be death to family, pleasure, good times, the hopes and dreams our world says are important. All for what? All for Jesus! The fact that followers of Jesus are actually not hermits or recluses but are sent back to live in their sinful flesh, to live with family, to live among friends and colleagues and enemies, to live in the world (while not being of the world) means that while the devil, the world and our sinful selves are against Jesus, we, the disciples of Jesus cannot expect that discipleship is easy going.
Jesus is the Prince of Peace. The angels sang the message that God was making peace on earth at his birth and yet the consequences of Jesus’ entry into enemy occupied territory is conflict, the world of swords and persecution, courts and ridicule, and even death.
I wouldn’t have to teach this or remind us of this if we were living in many parts of the world today where Christian discipleship means your daily living is one of conflict or struggle, not really knowing from which direction the next storm will come – a neighbour, a colleague, a mob, the government, friend or family who wants us to deny Jesus, fear and anxiety if our family members are suffering or are disadvantaged because of the faith. When things are tough, when suffering happens (remember that suffering is often suffering precisely because it can’t be explained neatly away), when the things of this world we hold important are stripped away, all that is left finally is Jesus and not even death can separate us from him.
And we squirm uncomfortably thinking ‘I know this – I may not often think it but I know this – but I sure as anything don’t want to experience it’. And yet this is our fine print too – here in England – or in Australia or Wales or America – where it is not so much punches or prison we might face but ridicule and condescension as the world’s agenda comes crashing up against Jesus and his life, as his followers live this life in the world. For us, I suspect, the pressures are in silence and conformity and keeping our heads down. We feel intimidated, we stumble over our confession of faith because we haven’t progressed much past God’s ‘I love you’ which sounds so childish if we keep repeating it when asked about the Christian faith or when giving a reason for why we follow Jesus.
The world says or suggests time and time again that the Christian Church is declining, dying out. Other religions are growing. If you really follow Jesus you’re a fool, because ‘you’re on the losing side’. Now tough times may indeed come. But the Church will not die out because the Church will greet her Lord when he comes for all to see. Nevertheless Christians should – in each generation – pause and reflect on their discipleship – and you should be aware of the fine print. At some point or points in our life, we who follow Jesus do (or should!) take a different path to that of the world whether socially, morally, ethically, sexually, even in relation to our family, and definitely at times in the big wide world; we who worship Jesus are on a collision course with the world that ultimately seeks to worship itself.
The truth of Matthew 10 is that the world needs liberating, rescuing, releasing from the bondage of sin and fear and death and the devil and his demons and that is still true today. The world still needs Jesus who is its true Rescuer and Helper; indeed it’s true God. That difference between the disciple of Jesus and the world is still the best opportunity to be noticed, to take a stand, to make a confession – not “I’m better than you” but that Jesus is loving and merciful, gracious and forgiving for us all and the only person worth following. And if that difference involves the fine print, then, Lord, so be it!
And the peace of God which passes all understanding keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. [Amen] 1 D Bonhoeffer (1959). The Cost of Discipleship. London: SCM Press. p.79
- Matthew 10:34 - 42