Today’s scripture readings appear to be about family and the love and pain that can result from being a part of a family. In Genesis, Jacob packs up the family and travels to Egypt to see his son Joseph, long presumed dead. Their reunion is emotional and beautiful. The psalmist proclaims, trust in the Lord and do good. In Matthew, Jesus prepares to send the disciples out to spread the Good News. And he warns them of horrible things that may come if they remain faithful. They will be persecuted by the courts, the church and possibly their own family members.
Usually the Old Testament is fire and brimstone and the New Testament is happiness and love. Here it seems reversed.
Two very different images of family. One where Jacob and Joseph reunite in a tearful embrace. And one where Jesus warns the disciples that as they spread the Good News, Brother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child. Jesus doesn’t sugar coat it much, does He? This is one of those scripture passages I’d just as soon skip. Chilling images. Ones that are hard to imagine. Images that I don’t like to think about. Despite the fearful images, Christ finishes by promising that those who remain faithful will be saved. Jesus makes it crystal clear that the joy of being part of the body of Christ may be tempered with some pain.
If I knew I would go to jail or, worse, if I knew that my family would split and betray me, would I remain faithful to Christ? And if I did remain faithful, would my reward balance out the hurt, pain and disappointment?
When someone asks me why I am a Christian, I usually respond that Jesus said that he came so we would have life and have it more abundantly. It’s one of those things I don’t understand, but I know is true. Faith in Christ means we will have a richer, fuller and more joyful life. And we will be better prepared for death. In other words, Christ helps you live better and die better. The flip side is that it may also mean that we may be persecuted, whipped, jailed or betrayed by family members. Is it worth the risk?
The image of a family split reminded me of a time in my life. A few years ago we welcomed a Japanese student named Yuki into our home. We were warned by the student exchange organizers that the students could seem cold and formal. I was concerned about a young lady coming into a house full of boys. Would the language barrier be too much to overcome? My fears were groundless. Yuki loved the boys and they loved her. My wife was overjoyed to have another female in the house. Yuki called me father, and treated me with great respect. Then came the day when Yuki had to return to Japan. As we stood in line waiting to put Yuki on the plane, she put her head on my shoulder and sobbed. As Yuki’s plane flew away, I walked to the car and it was my turn to cry. It was a horrible and painful day. There was an option to avoid the pain. To not welcome Yuki into our house in the first place. Christ tells us that answering his call will bring great joy and reward, but can also bring pain. As painful as the day of Yuki’s departure was, having her in our home was a wonderful, rewarding experience. Part of the price of loving someone is that somewhere down the road you will experience pain and grief as a result of that love.
Christ loved the disciples and he knew the world he was sending them out into. Jesus must have felt great pain knowing he was sending some of his friends to their deaths. Jesus knew what was in store for the disciples and for himself. Christ stayed faithful to his mission despite people inflicting incredible pain and humiliation on him. He remained faithful to his mission, even to death. And thank God for it.
My prayer today is for those of us who are fearful about obeying Christ’s command. Whose fear of pain keeps them from loving. That we would know that Christ loves us and that our reward for remaining faithful will be to one day see Him face to face.
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