"Tell the students to give up their small ambitions and come eastward to preach the gospel of Christ." – Francis Xavier, missionary to India, the Philippines, and Japan
"The best remedy for a sick church is to put it on a missionary diet." – Unknown
"If the Great Commission is true, our plans are not too big; they are too small." – Pat Morley
A chiastic structure has the form A- B- C- B’- A’ A and A’ have similar wording or deal with similar subjects, sometimes they contain similar catch phrases. Chiasmus is a favorite structure in the writing of Jesus’ time and is found frequently in the bible. Some scholars suggest that the entire book of Hebrews is a large, carefully constructed Chiasmus.
The great missionary sermon in Matthew 10 may well be such a chiastic structure with A= 5 -15, B= 16- 25, C 26- 33, B’= 34-39, and A’ =40-42. Today, we are read 24- 39. There should therefore not be any surprise that is seems that more than one thing is discussed in the text and that two or maybe three subjects offer themselves for discussion.
For the time being, let us grab on to “C,” verses 26-33. This part of the speech concerns itself with the apostles themselves and with their attitude.
On the surface it is about being fearless in mission. It begins with a call to confidence of Jesus’ teaching. Jesus is confident in what he has told his disciples and is not ashamed of what they will tell others he is teaching. He is not afraid of the arguments and divisions that will be brought on by what he says. He is not afraid of being known.
John Pilch points out that this is not a normal thing in Mideast society. One kept a number of things back from the public. It was not good for one’s standing or honor to have no mystery about oneself or about one’s inner circle. Jesus might be seen as demolishing that sort of thinking but that is not what the texts here shows. Rather, the one who is the center of the circle is God in Heaven and not Jesus. From God comes protection. God vouches for the disciples of Jesus and for Jesus himself as seen at his baptism. God bestows honor and defends it as is seen in the Resurrection. God also retains mystery and therefore awe. The idea that the hair on one’s head are numbered is meant to point to the transcendent omniscience and splendor of God as much as they are meant to assure irresistible protection. (10:31)
We might note that Jesus does explain things not to crowds but to the disciples in private. (ex 13:36ff) Yet, at the end of Matthew’s Gospel this very teaching is again opened to the whole world as Jesus commands that the disciples “teach it all.” (28:20)
To be dishonored by the world means nothing here. Those who have done what Jesus, the one acclaimed at baptism and at Transfiguration is acclaimed “the Son” and therefore the agent of God and of God’s holy honor, has asked of them have a place with God and will be honored by God even thought he world ridicules or even persecutes them.
This is a missionary exhortation. We must not forget this. The words and assurances here are meant for those who hear Jesus words to go and proclaim, letting the chips fall where they may. This pericope is not meant plenary. The invitation to “come and enter my rest,” which is meant to those downtrodden and lost, will come later (11:28). Here, the protection and reassurance is directed solely at the missionaries.
These missionaries, like Jesus, will see their mission be controversial and they will see it fail. Some of those whom they will interact with will love family more than the word of God. (10:37) By this time, in the story, the disciples have already witnessed this happening to Jesus himself. (8:18-22) Some will love their family’s riches more than the word of God. (19:16-24) It did not discourage Jesus and it should not discourage the disciples.
As the quotes that begin this reflection suggest, the church has done her planning all wrong. Ok, that is an overstatement but it gets at the truth. We plan for what we can do and settle for what that limited vision, further diminished by natural entropy and failure, can accomplish and we leave it at that. Our limitations are real. Resistance is real. The problem is not that they are real. The problem is rather, that we give them the right to veto God’s command that we be in mission.
So, you are shy. If the hair on your head is numbered, then is it perhaps a possibility that God already knows this? So, you are among a stiff necked people who have resisted the work of missionaries for decades? If the hairs on their heads are numbered is it perhaps a possibility that God already knew that? Do not prophets get to go into places that God and prophet both know will be unreceptive, yet, God does not back off and the prophet is denied veto right over God’s holy call to prophecy? (ex: Is 6:1-9; Jer 1:6)
To quote St. Paul: You are without excuse; we are without excuse. We are a missionary faith. We have been summoned by God himself to go and tell all we know, all that Jesus has taught and commanded us. (28:10, 10:7) Any objection to actually doing that is an attempt to have a veto. No heavenly constitution has given us that veto power. Woe indeed to any of us if we do not preach the Gospel. (1Cor 9:16)
It is a good day for us to ask ourselves the simple question: “Is all we do as church still directed to the proposition that all may know Jesus Christ and him crucified?” “Are all our members set to that goal?” “Are all our energies pointed there?”
Now at the beginning of the Pentecost season those might be pregnant questions to ask.