a Homily for Proper 7 A
Text: Matthew 10:24-39
Jesus paints a picture of the divine household that appears frightening: talk of swords and a divided family. But it isn’t the household that frightens, but the realization that our homes aren’t the the true household.
Scripture’s many doors
This morning’s part of the story is like a building with many doors. Each lets us in with a different, disturbing welcome. Different wall hangings, pictures, floor. Each troubling and confusing. Yet each will eventually bring us to the same room. If we aren’t distracted or if we don’t turn around and leave, that is.
Each door reveals things about the room, but none defines the room. They provide passage to that room. A room built for us.
These ways in are all so distracting. Things here about slaves and masters, whispers and shouts, sparrows and hairs on your head.
Scariest of them all is there, in the middle, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
Visions of a violent Jesus, splashed across the wall, contradicting His own teaching, seeming to reveal His own hypocrisy. He divides us, or excuses us for our own division; our separation and creating an entire culture of “us and them”. This way, the text is an inoculation, a vaccine shot to protect us from all the other times Jesus implores us to come together or condemns our division.
Jesus as The Great Divider
I struggle with these readings, particularly when there is so much here; we swim in their contradictory waters, pulled/pushed and tossed.
And we read this excerpt, or we hear that particular part about the sword as just such a defense of violence. But this passage reminds me of another: Jesus’s trip home. There He warns that a prophet is never welcome in his home town. Indeed, Jesus is rejected and the crowds move to get their hands on Him. At that moment, we also see how Jesus feels about family: mother, sisters, and brothers all try to save Jesus from the angry mob. Jesus tells them that in that moment, that action, they are not His real family. His family is this group of disciples around Him.
Jesus’s redefining family is hard to hear in that passage, I think, in precisely the way that its hard to hear in this one. That Jesus sets child against parent. That our foes may be our parents or children. I worry that is too true the case for many of us.
I have never felt like the foe of my parents. But as a youth and young adult, I often felt like I was seen as an obstacle to the church. A commodity to be counted, but never used. A voice to be heard, but never one to teach. Certainly not an equal. I was always the disciple, taught to serve–which mostly meant serving a church full of teachers. Never were the table turned, never did our elders wash our feet; never did they take thatrole of Jesus’s.
Dysfunction is not normal to GOD
We can choose to see dysfunction in this text as normal, or defended by Jesus. Just as we use the line “the poor will always be with you” as an excuse to ignore the system that continues to increase poverty. Or we can take Jesus more seriously here than we do.
Each of these pieces: about the servants and the sparrows and the hairs and the hell: is about the household. A household kept and built by GOD. A household which embraces equality and rejects hierarchy; embraces public devotion and rejects private belief; embraces the worthless and successful; naming their true worth the same.
The division Jesus announces is a division between the household we inherit and GOD’s household. For our parents and their parents built a house where the poor are worth less than the wealthy, the sick are less than the healthy. Worth and place is built upon accomplishment and our desires to punish are much stronger than our will to teach and our hope to rehabilitate.
The division Jesus describes is between those who actually want the divine household, the Kingdom of GOD and those who seek to maintain the old one; those traditions of privilege which already legislate difference and separation.
The Household of GOD
The Good News in a gospel story about division may seem hard to glean, particularly when it calls for changing the way we believe, work, and behave. Especially for those of us with standing in the old household. Standing because of family name, ethnicity, income, gender, homeownership, education, any of the ways many of us are privileged by the household of empire. Perhaps worse is to think of our own parents as part of the wrong way. As for many of those of us here, that as parents, we were building the wrong household.
Except that Jesus’s household is ever coming closer as we continue to engage it; pulling and dragging it into this world. A household that never expects a child to submit simply because we “say so” but raises her to be more loving than we could be, more generous than our own parents were, more thankful than our grandparents were for GOD’s blessings. A household that is truly as much hers as ours. A household that doesn’t hold GOD above it, but expects GOD to join them, inspiring them to hope and give and play, creating the world GOD dreams we’ll build rather than the one we’re expecting GOD to fix.
This can happen. Right here. We are the laboratory for the divine household. A people of participation and love; of honesty and proclaiming the Good News–that Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not; of struggle and thanksgiving.
Jesus never said it would be easy. In fact, He suggests it is more like a matter of life and death. A life that can only be found if we embrace a new way: the household of GOD. That isn’t just good news for us, it’s great news.