‘… As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for labourers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgement than for that town.
‘See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.’ – Matthew 10:7-16 (Eucharistic Gospel reading for the Feast of St. Barnabas)
I hear various Christian denominations and groups proclaiming their love and obedience to Jesus. Some of these groups seem picky in how they choose verses they use to convince others of their essential Christianity. It seems as though these groups ignore this particular part of Matthew. I know that Christians are not supposed to judge others. Still, when it comes to neglecting to follow or scoffing at those who try to follow passages such as this one, it is hard not to judge others by the teachings they perpetuate and the ones they ignore.
Take heaven, for instance. For some, heaven is a place where all Christians will go by-and-by if they are good and follow the teachings of Jesus (selective ones, that is). Meanwhile, the earth and all its resources are to be used for humankind’s benefit, and the heck with conservation and ecology. For other followers of Jesus, the kingdom of heaven is the Kingdom of God, to whom all creation belongs. It seems God intends for us to bring the kingdom about on the earth, right here and right now. We can’t do that if we’re causing the depletion of natural resources, the extinction of hundreds of species of creatures, and ignoring ways to halt or prevent further disasters such as climate change. We can’t do it if we overthink about an accumulation of goods for ourselves while others starve, fall ill, are put into any form of slavery, or even die for lack of food, shelter, health care, or justice.
In this passage, Jesus teaches a form of judgement, or perhaps “discernment” is the better word. The disciples and followers were told to go out into the world, taking no more than was absolutely necessary (including money), and seek out those who would be receptive to the teachings of Jesus. If people in the village or town they were to visit became inhospitable or refused to listening, the preachers and teachers were to leave for another place. If, however, the citizens were receptive, their hospitality should be accepted until it was time to go forth again. It was a case of making a judgement – with clear-cut boundaries for those decisions.
We’re still trying to make those judgements, and it seems we often fail to act when we should. Jesus certainly never told us to go out and buy assault rifles and extra-large clips. In fact, he mentioned not even taking even a staff when his followers were going out to spread the word. How God must weep when innocents such as the children of Uvalde, Texas, are mown down by people with access to high-powered weapons only military personnel should need. Creating a kingdom of God on earth was likened to taking swords and turning them into plowshares, not forming them into larger and larger caliber weapons to spread more and more destruction.
The kingdom of God on earth means treating all as equals. It means respecting the earth and its resources and protecting them from destruction and waste. The poor should be adequately housed, with plenty of food, access to adequate health care, and safety from bullying and other forms of harassment. The sick should have the ability to receive treatment without worrying about whether their food budget would have to be slashed to pay for medicine or treatment. As for casting out demons, the only exorcism needed is for people to learn to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.
So there we have it laid out before us – Jesus’s whole teachings in a nutshell. Why then is it so easy to overlook and so hard to bring about? Perhaps it is the verses we choose to pay attention to and the ones we ignore. Maybe we should go back and re-read the gospels, paying attention to all they say, not just familiar or comfortable verses.
It certainly wouldn’t hurt.