Blog di FORMAZIONE PERMANENTE MISSIONARIA – Uno sguardo missionario sulla Vita, il Mondo e la Chiesa MISSIONARY ONGOING FORMATION – A missionary look on the life of the world and the church
The second of the five discourses of Jesus found in the Gospel of Matthew develops the themes related to sending of the disciples to a mission. Today we are offered the concluding passage.
In the first part (vv. 37-39), the demands of discipleship are presented in all their harshness. Radical and unprecedented renouncements are required. To make matters worse, each of them is accompanied by a severe and drastic statement, marked like a refrain, “is not worthy of me!” No rabbi has ever claimed so much to those who followed him. Perhaps for this, one day the Jews have asked Jesus: “Who do you claim to be?”(Jn 8:52).
Above all, he demands from his disciple the radical departure even from the more intimate and natural affections, such as love for parents and for the children.
His request is placed in the context of the paradoxical images used in the last part of the discourse. He has just said that he did not come to bring peace, but a sword (Mt 10:34).
After having declared the peacemakers blessed (Mt 5:9); and having invited to love the enemies (Mt 6:44), Jesus certainly cannot incite physical aggression towards the enemies. The sword, that causes division and conflict, is his word, which the author of the Letter to the Hebrews calls “living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword; it pierces to the division of soul and spirit and judges the intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12). It is the sword Simeon was referring to in his prophecy made to Mary (Lk 2:35).
Jesus does not intend to deny the Torah of Moses, which commands to honor father and mother. In fact, he has repeatedly stressed the commandment (Mt 15:4). However, he is aware that he came “for the falling and rising of many in Israel, a sign of contradiction; and a sword will pierce your own soul, so that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed” (Lk 2:34-35). He knows that his word will cause misunderstandings, disagreements, and tensions within the same families.
Matthew wrote his Gospel in a time of persecution. The disciples have often had the experience that, to remain faithful to Christ, they had to accept the breaking of ties with the people who matter most. The rabbis had made the decision to expel from the synagogues, to exclude from the chosen people those who consider Jesus the Messiah. They had ordered that those who adhered to the Christian faith, considered heretical, be disowned by their families. The consequences of this exclusion were severe and painful, not only from the emotional point of view but also from the social and economic.
Jesus demands from the disciple the courage to remain without support, without protection, and without material security for the sake of his Gospel. Then, he continues with another request, even more dramatic: the willingness not only to lose it all but also to give up their lives.
The image of the cross refers to the inevitable consequences which go to meet those who want to live according to the dictates of the Gospel: like the Master, he will meet the cross, that is, the hostility of the world. Even if life will not be removed with martyrdom, he must give it in a constant and generous self-sacrifice.
“He came to His own, yet His own did not receive him” (Jn 1:11). It was this man’s response to the hosting request made by God. It is a fate that often touched Jesus (Lk 9:53) and it is the one that awaits the disciples sent by him (Mt 10:14).
In the second part of the passage (vv. 40-42) is a remarkable promise to those who welcome the preachers of the Gospel is reported. “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes him who sent me” (v. 40). This is not just material hospitality, such as that offered by the woman of Shunem to Elisha, but the reception of the message. The rabbis said: “The envy of a man is like the man himself.” Jesus intends to affirm the authority he conferred to his disciple: in the disciple’s words resound the voice of the Master and, through him, the Father’s.
It is at this point that the theme introduced by the First Reading is resumed. Whoever receives the prophet, for the fact of being a prophet, will receive a prophet’s reward. Even a simple gesture of love as to offer a cup of cold water to a disciple, though small, with no appearance, no prestigious titles, will not remain unrewarded.
Not everyone has received from God the same qualities and the same gifts. However, in different ways, but with the same generosity, every true believer is called to give his/her contribution and support for those who dedicate themselves directly to the proclamation of the Word of God. Even before the material help, these persons need to hear that their efforts are appreciated by the brothers and sisters in the faith and that their message is assimilated.
This reception is to be revealed in a special way to those who have renounced to having a “home,” to build a family, not to escape, to live isolated and far from the world but to belong to every family, to be fully available to Christ and the brothers and sisters. How is their service estimated? How are they inserted in our community? Does each family consider them members or consider them strangers? How is gratitude manifested towards the work they generously perform?
READ: Jesus assures a reward for generous giving in the name of God. Dying with Christ results in sharing in his Resurrection as well.
REFLECT: The worldly wisdom tells us to be cautious about giving and giving up. “A bird in hand is worth two in the bush,” it advices. But the Gospel invitation goes against the worldly grain. For the Gospel encourages us to give up what we have now to find what God has in store for us. It requires courage and faith. Do I dare?
PRAY: Lord, give me the courage to love you beyond everything and to give up everything for the sheer gift of having you.
ACT: Express your faith in your dealings with others. The little ones are all members of the community. Teach each one with compassion.
Italian missionary and biblical scholar