Exodus 1:8-14, 22
Matthew’s gospel for today is taken from the end of the “Ministry and Mission in Galilee” section. We find at the beginning, this section speaks to the healing ministry of Jesus and today we read of Jesus giving final instruction to his disciples having called them and given them authority to heal and cure (10:1). He now prepares them for what to expect as they carry out his commands (11:1).
At first glance, the words used seem jarring. I found myself asking the questions: “Where does blessed are the peacemakers fit in (5:9)? What about the strategies of non-violence that suggests we among other things, “turn the other cheek” etc…. (5:38-48)? Later on in this gospel, Jesus instructs Peter to put his sword away (26:52). Does this mean a reversal of those other statements?
The first reader of this text—the Matthean Christian community made up primarily of Jew and Gentiles were being challenged to trust in their commitment to Jesus as they struggled to figure out their new identity. In deciding to follow Jesus, some may have experienced the stress of family conflicts if their mother, father…etc… did not share their faith. Undoubtedly there was conflict from within the community as well. This, “Way,” as it was originally called, was such a radical walking away from the old world—all that was familiar—into the new and unknown.
And here we see the connection to the first reading—the Israelites had become a threat now that the Pharaoh didn’t know Joseph, they were being treated as slaves. We know that Moses was sent by God to lead them from their slavery into the Promised Land. First they had to wander through the wilderness, their time of testing, searching and learning about whom they were as the Chosen People. From the old life to the new life; similarly the early Christian community was given that invitation and it is no less true for us today.
I might suggest that rather than hearing guilt in the context of our worthiness, we aspire instead to reach for our worthiness as our birthright as children of God. To claim it as we detach ourselves from all that keeps us bound to our old life. St. Paul assures us of our worthiness because Christ died for us.
We need to pay attention to the ways in which we are being called—commanded—to follow Jesus as his disciples. The cost of discipleship is not just to the Cross but through the Cross to new life! Where we will recognize and welcome the prophet, the righteous and most especially Jesus who is the Word made flesh. He is that sharp edged sword that can cut through the indecisions of our life, to inspire us when we are being called to take that further step in following him.
Jean Bowler is a retreatant at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center in Sierra Madre, and a member of the Office of Mission Effectiveness Board of Holy Cross Province.