Be Wise and Innocent!

Mercy not Sacrifice!
June 8, 2023
From Fear to Love: A Radical Welcome!
June 30, 2023
Mercy not Sacrifice!
June 8, 2023
From Fear to Love: A Radical Welcome!
June 30, 2023

‘Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness’ (Matt. 9:35)

The good news Jesus was sharing was profoundly life-changing, accompanied by healing, and restoration in health and community.  Through his teaching and preaching in the synagogues, word was spreading around the countryside about his understanding of God and what was possible with God’s love.  Repentance, forgiveness and salvation were retold again through the scriptures.  ‘The kingdom of God has come near,’ now, today. (Matt. 9:7)   God was talked about differently.  This was God who set people free, brought sight, healing and hope to those on the fringes of society, left out and ignored.  A God of love and life.  It still makes my heart race today to know this is true.  

Jesus’ commitment to bringing God’s love to everyone and Jesus’ awareness of what was to happen to him, sooner rather than later, meant he needed to spread his ministry and message to more people as quickly as possible.  He had to send out his disciples with God’s authority to cure, heal and raise from the dead, to extend and amplify the good news to as many as would hear it and listen.  Full restoration of life in God was promised and the disciples had to share this as widely as possible.   But there were some caveats. 

Firstly, the disciples were being sent out by Jesus, to go without any baggage, not be loaded up with the usual stuff we take everywhere.  In the first century, rather than credit cards, phones and overnight bag, it was the spare tunic, sandals and money, and a staff for walking which had to be left behind.  Jesus was asking the disciples to go unencumbered, to trust and follow God to where they were sent. 

Secondly, did you notice the hard edge there is in this ‘sending’ by Jesus and the strong note of caution he included.  There was no sentimentality in this call to be an apostle, to spreading the good news.  Jesus warned, God’s good news may not be received well.  It would be dangerous and the advice he gave was:

‘See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.’ (Matt.9.16)

The threats of violence included flogging, public humiliation, rejection, betrayal and death.  How’s that for a job description!

Thirdly, Jesus said, if a household did not respond, move on, don’t waste God’s peace.  This is a sobering thought!  (Matt.9:13-14)

Its not often we hold out hands in peace, and, in the same breath be warned about coming prepared for death; not in our corner of the world, not these days.  The warning against those who reject God’s peace is fierce and unequivocal.   Rejecting peace means we are rejecting mercy, justice, hope and love.  It means we are rejecting God.  Rejecting peace, shalom is a sin against the Holy Spirit. So, we should be careful in our response, and understand what is happening and what we have committed to being and doing as disciples and apostles.

Jesus’ love and compassion for his neighbours’ suffering, moved him to remind us the harvest is always plentiful. There are so many people who need to hear and be invited into the good news, and there are so few laborers.  (Matt. 9:36-38) I suspect the small number willing to be apostles is because of the way we have to live this good news, not simply tell it and continue to live our old lives.  People are persuaded by example, not simply by words.  We are transformed by conviction and way of life.  Others come to see the God we’re talking about in the way we speak and behave, in public and in private.  

Its not surprising then, that Jesus goes on to warn his disciples about the welcome they might receive even when coming in peace, as he acknowledged the world is not friendly, and violence will be their harvest, just as it will be for him.  It will be so bad indeed, families will turn on one another, even to death. This is a truly awful outcome for anyone to contemplate because our family is our basic place of safety and love, they are our loved ones.  Yet this too, may be our harvest.

Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name.’ (Matt. 10:21-22)

To come in peace in spite of, and even because of, this response is a significant charge and responsibility.  What does peace feel like or look like in the middle of conflict, violence and war? Not simply the promise of peace, but how do we as Christians live peaceably.   What does peace look like in a country or a church in conflict?  In many parishes, there are people who have fled war torn countries arriving here as refugees and asylum seekers having experienced the full horror of war; and there are many who have fought in wars on behalf of Australia.  What does peace look like as a survivor?  Our risk of moral injury is becoming much clearer.  Violence scars us, violence becomes embodied in us.  Violence is never an answer.

I was reading this week, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s statement on the 14th June about the recent changes to Ugandan law and the Church of Uganda’s support for the Anti-Homosexuality Act (14June23).  Archbishop Justin wrote: ‘Supporting such legislation is a fundamental departure from our commitment to uphold the freedom and dignity of all people.  There is no justification …to support such laws: not in our resolutions, not in our teachings, and not in the Gospel we share.’  Innocent people are suffering, being sacked from work, becoming homeless, evicted by their families, facing imprisonment and death, because the good news has been distorted and weaponised. 

We have the same understanding of the holocaust in the first world war, and we see it today in the fight for Ukraine’s independence.  We see it today here in Australia as we navigate racism, domestic violence, and poverty.   

You might well ask, what are we are to do today, as apostles?  Who might we talk to about the good news of God’s kingdom?  I think the people are all around us, if only we could see them, and step out of our quiet, settled lives to see those for whom Jesus had compassion and be prepared to be sent to spread the Good News.  Because rejecting God’s peace is not an option.    

The Lord be with you.

Bibliography:

Jarvis, C.E., Johnson, E.E. [Gen. Eds].  2013.  Feasting on the Gospels Matthew, Vol. 2 Chapters 14-28.  Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, USA.

Archbishop of Canterbury Article 14June2023,

https://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/news/news-and-statements/archbishop-canterburys-statement-church-uganda

Brief explanation: Moral injury is the damage done to one’s conscience or moral compass when that person betrays, perpetrates, witnesses, or fails to prevent acts that transgress one’s own moral beliefs, values, or ethical codes of conduct.

Lucy Morris
Lucy Morris
Anglican Priest, International Speaker, Published Author, Social Justice Advocate and Activist.

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