Reflection by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 21 June 2020.
• First Reading: Genesis 21: 8-21 (God’s promise to Abraham confirmed)
• Psalm: Psalm 86: 1-10, 16-17 (Gladden the soul of your servant for I lift up my soul)
• Epistle: Romans 6: 1b-11 (Our old self was crucified with Him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin)
• Gospel: Matthew 10: 24-39 (Whoever does not take up the cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me)
It looks as if anger is the flavour of the moment, as ‘Me Too’ has moved into ‘Black Lives Matter’ and as confusion prevails in the proper national response to the Coronavirus pandemic.
And this anger is present in all parts of society – the Brexit debate is suspended to see how life will develop in the New Year in the aftermath of the current Coronavirus pandemic, the competing national claims for the commanding heights of the media and the public debate, the overall sense of anxiety and insecurity in almost all aspects of life.
In a way the Genesis lesson says something about it as Ishmael had taunted Sarah who had then demanded that he and Hagar be sent away – no matter where – but out of her life.
The anger and the resentment were real and Abraham obliged. But God was also in the story, and despite His promises to Abraham and Sarah, also made solid promises to Hagar and Ishmael. For all the emotional static in the situation, God was not indifferent and certainly had not finished with Hagar and Ishmael.
But Jesus Himself was no stranger to disagreement and suffered hostility and rejection as well. Those who followed Him would find the same in their own lives, especially as they tried to live them faithfully before Him.
In this sense He was wanting to warn the disciples that there their commitment to Him would have costs. Even though He brought peace with God and with one another, peace in forgiveness with their past and reassurance concerning the future, there was still going to be dispute and rejection.
The Prince of Peace would also be arrested and crucified. The disciples themselves would find prison and martyrdom. As Jesus proclaimed God’s forgiveness and restoration, the world systems of the time and ever since would prefer to offer condemnation and the spectacles of crucifixion and the games arenas.
It is as if there is more satisfaction in seeing another destroyed than in finding a personal peace and reconciliation with God, sins forgiven and a new route in life offered.
When Jesus said that He brought not peace but a sword, He was pointing to the anger and controversy that His own message of repentance and faith would also provoke. To commit to His message would also find opposition in one’s own community and home and yet Jesus was saying that yes, the cross of rejection would be part of the life of the believer.
But in spite of all this, the presence and mercy of God would still prevail, and He would never be indifferent to the suffering and rejection of His servants.
If two sparrows could be sold for a day’s wages, then the lives of the disciples were worth far more than that. If God had a tally of the hairs of their heads, then He certainly had the measure of their sense of insecurity and of threat, amid abuse and distortion.
If anything it would be by denying their interests that Jesus’ disciples would find themselves – and certainly not by asserting them.
This is where Paul put the sense of insecurity into a bigger context.
By being baptized into Jesus, the disciples in all ages were committing themselves to both His life and His death. By entering the waters of baptism they were also entering Jesus’ own death.
By coming out of the waters they were also rising again in the resurrection of Jesus.
Life had taken on a new significance and direction. They would never again be isolated for in the Holy Spirit, Jesus would always be next to them, just a prayer and a heartbeat distant.
The test of life would come in due course. To conform or not to conform? To take that next step, even if it meant treading on another person’s life and effort? To take the credit for the work and inspiration of another? To use a new position to humiliate and abuse another who could not answer back or who may be less adept at finding that smart, killer reply? To excel in the put-down but to take no responsibility for the frailty or vulnerability of another?
All of these choices would confront the disciple of Jesus, in every generation. Some of the temptations would be – almost – overwhelming.
But Paul was saying, that to be baptized into the death of Jesus was also to be baptized into His life, including a life carrying a cross.
Jesus was saying that no matter what the opposition, He would always be there. The hairs of their heads were counted, as were their thoughts and the tears of their own souls.
But then this is what losing one’s life for His sake can mean, from day to day. It is also what it means to gain life, and a life beyond imagining, in the presence of God.