2- Reading and understanding the Gospel: The Disciples’ Mission (Mt 10:16-33)
16Remember, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves; so be cunning as serpents and yet as harmless as doves.
17 “Beware of men: they will hand you over to Sanhedrins and scourge you in their synagogues. 18You will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the pagans. 19But when they hand you over, do not worry about how to speak or what to say; what you are to say will be given to you when the time comes; 20because it is not you who will be speaking; the Spirit of your Father will be speaking in you.
2l “Brother will betray brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise against their parents and have them put to death. 22You will be hated by all men on account of my name; but the man who stands firm to the end will be saved. 23If they persecute you in one town, take refuge in the next; and if they persecute you in that, take refuge in another. I tell you solemnly, you will not have gone the round of the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
24 “The disciple is not superior to his teacher, nor the slave to his master. 25It is enough for the disciple that he should grow to be like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, what will they not say of his household?
26 “Do not be afraid of them therefore. For everything that is now covered will be uncovered, and everything now hidden will be made clear. 27What I say to you in the dark, tell in the daylight; what you hear in whispers, proclaim from the housetops.
28 “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; fear him rather who can destroy both body and soul in hell. 29Can you not buy two sparrows for a penny? And yet not one falls to the ground without your Father knowing. 30Why, every hair on your head has been counted. 31So there is no need to be afraid; you are worth more than hundreds of sparrows.
32 “So if anyone declares himself for me in the presence of men, I will declare my-self for him in the presence of my Father in heaven. 33But the one who disowns me in the presence of men, I will disown in the presence of my Father in heaven.
2. 1- Explanation
These words of Jesus speak about the persecutions that the disciples will endure:
- Introduction (Mt 9:35 – 10:5a): Matthew reviews the three mission activities of Christ: Teaching; Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven; Healing (Mt 4:23). Jesus is revealed as the Shepherd filled with the mercy of God and His love for His people, as opposed to the pastors of Israel. He invites people back to the way of God – He calls Peter the ‘first’ among the 12 Apostles, announcing in this way the primacy of Peter over the other disciples.
- Tasks of missionaries (Mt 10:5b-15): This paragraph is aptly divided as follows:
– Territory of work (10:5b-6)
– Schedule of work (10:7-8)
– Baggage and equipment (10:8b-10)
– Missionary style (10:11-15)
The early stage of the evangelization mission begins prior to the Ascension of Christ (akin to a training stage) in seeking the lost sheep of Israel: The Messiah seeks to gather his dispersed people (Is 11:12). Note how serving the Kingdom (Mt 10:7) is akin to serving humanity (Mt 10:8). On the other hand, advice on baggage and equipment – opposite to Mark, who only advises a stick and sandals – highlights trust in the Providence of God which doesn’t worry about lack of hospitality (see Mt 6:25-34). As for what concerns peace, this lies in the more important Messianic blessing which is granted in the mission (Is 9:1-6; Is 11:6-9).
- Mission to the world and persecutions (Mt 10:16-33): The tone changes here from duties and tasks to speaking of the destiny of pain and persecutions that disciples will meet. The Christian mission is characterised by pain. The introductory part is general in nature (Mt 10:16) and is followed by three literary units. The introduction speaks of being sent amid danger and calls for shrewdness and innocence combined. The first literary unit (Mt 10:17-23) speaks of persecution by the Jews and other nations and of the situations disciples will meet. The second literary unit (Mt 10:24-25) is the central part and speaks of the association between disciple and teacher on the one hand, and the servant and master on the other hand. The third unit (Mt 10:26-33) focuses on the three imperatives: Do not be afraid (Mt 10:26, 28, 31), which reassure the disciples that God is the Lord of history and shall judge, in utter fairness, everyone according to his deeds.
- Discipleship and reward of hosts (Mt 10: 4-42) The first three verses (Mt 10:34-36) deal with the paradoxical message of Jesus and the state of division in the family because of Christ: Some will want to believe and practise their faith on which they have embarked, while others will refuse, though in the same household. Part 2 (Mt 10:37-39) deals with the outcome for those who accept the message of Christ. Part 3 (10:40-42) deals with the relationship between a missionary and his peers and with God. The last unit (10:40-42) deals with the relationship that binds the One who sends with the envoys and with God.
5. Conclusion (Mt 11:1): This verse marks the conclusion of all the discourses in the Gospel of Matthew. In contrast with Mark 6:12, 13, 30 and Luke 9:6, 10, Matthew is less concerned with the missionaries and speaks more about the message of Christ and his mission among his people. The actual mission of the disciples is tackled again in the last part of the Gospel of Matthew (Mt 28:16-20).
2. 2- Summary and Practice
Dear baptism seeker, you are listening today to catechesis and teaching. In fact, you have not yet received the Holy Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, nor have you yet been sent as a missionary to evangelize in the name of Jesus. However, you are invited to practise being a witness to Christ in your actions, before your words. The ambassador of Christ knows that he must first be a sheep who follows the shepherd towards the sheepfold of life. On the way, he must help others, treating the wounds of suffering humanity.
Christ promises a reward for those who follow him to the end. However, in the course of this life, we will face numerous problems and we have to accept them in the hope of the believer who looks at the glorious Cross and draws power and help from it. Wolves are plenty and persecutions are uncountable. This is why we know that every believer has a cross to carry. The first three centuries of Christianity passed without freedom to practise religious customs; and the blood of martyrs became the seed of saints. Today, Christians endure different persecutions; we find it hard to resist the temptations of daily life and are faced with persecutions of another type. We know that the Sacrament of Confirmation, which accompanies Baptism, is the power of the Holy Spirit which helps us all through our lives to witness to Christ’s teachings, all the way to spilling our blood, if it is necessary. The Apostolic Discourse of Jesus (Mt 10) is the map for our life in this world.