This section of Matthew’s Gospel is a collection of Jesus’ sayings, all of which are also found in other New Testament passages. One, an amplification of some words found in Mark’s Gospel, also closely parallels one of Micah’s prophecies about families turning against each other, as well as being almost identical to a saying recorded by Luke. Did Jesus say similar things on different occasions, some shorter and more pithy, others longer and more resonant with Micah’s warning? It’s more than likely that he did.
There’s almost a random quality about this grouping of Jesus’ sayings. Almost all of them also occur in Luke’s version of events, and some are echoed by John, but in completely different contexts. They are then, what people sometimes call, ‘floating sayings’ - memorable phrases or comments, but no one knows when Jesus said them or how many times.
I say, the grouping of the sayings looks ‘almost’ random because, on closer examination, they all seem to be about conflict. Jesus has been vilified, so his disciples must expect similar treatment. They’re called to proclaim openly what he’s told them in private, and suddenly this idea is linked to people killing the body, which implies that proclaiming the Gospel is likely to provoke fierce opposition. The reward for sticking our necks out is that Jesus will put in a good word for us when our deeds are being sifted before God.
This brings us to the quotation from Micah about whole families being in conflict with one another. When our younger son Matthew was three years-old I had a duel with him in the garden using plastic toy swords. I parried his blows for a while before letting my guard drop. In an instant he stabbed me, exclaiming, ‘Take that, sucker!’
Well, Jesus expects us to take it, too! He hasn’t come to make life easy for his disciples. We’re to expect the sharp and pointy sword of suffering rather than peace, perfect peace. Whoever doesn’t take up the cross and follow him is not worthy of being his disciple.
Perhaps these are useful lessons as we emerge from lockdown. We’re having to reconcile ourselves to risk-taking again. Someone told our daughter that she would send her children back to school when there was no risk involved, but that day will never come. Those who try to keep their life at all costs will inevitably lose it one day. Those who are willing to lose their life for Jesus’ sake will find it.