Last week’s gospel (Matthew 9:35-10:8) told of Jesus ministry of teaching and healing extended as all 12 of his disciples became apostles – the learners were “sent” to act in Jesus name. I reflected that this was not what we might have expected, but it nevertheless is what is expected of us. This week the Old Testament lesson (from the “related” sequence) is Jeremiah 20:7-13, and might warn us that prophets and others faithful to God can have a hard time.
Reading Matthew 10:24-39, we learn more of what discipleship means, for the twelve and for us. 10:24 is important: “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master”. Matthew quotes that apparently to warn the Christians of his church that they are likely to be abused and persecuted, as Jesus was. But he may also have been aware of the dangers to be faced as disciples got used to being Christians, and no longer found their mission such an adventure.
Historically, Anglicans have relied on Scripture, Tradition and Reason. Scripture is of vital importance as God’s main way of communicating with us, (our services are full of the Bible in different forms). Tradition helps us to understand and apply it – you may not immediately remember why we don’t publicly stone people to death for certain offences described in the Old Testament, but tradition might help you pause long enough to remember that some parts of the Old are changed by the New Testament. Reason is something we believe God gave us, to be used alongside his other gifts.
But “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master”. We remain learners, and need to be aware of some of the ways of getting it wrong!
- Scripture can be read out of context, or interpreted without setting it alongside the rest of the Bible. “There is no God” -the words are found in scripture, but the full quote of Psalm 14:1 reads “Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.””
- Tradition shows us how Christians lived in the past, but (even assuming they got it right) does not always meet a new situation. When society changes, the same answer may be the wrong answer.
- Reason is a great help – if we remember that we are always blind to our own weaknesses. I can think of a million excuses and reasons why my favourite sins are OK for me, – and all the excuses are rubbish.
“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master”. As the twelve disciples went out that first time, there probably wasn’t much temptation to “improve” on Jesus teaching, or healing technique. As time went on, that temptation grew.
- It grew because of the temptation to think of ourselves as clever, and not dependant on a Master
- it grew, because we like to avoid facing up to being wrong
- it grew, because life was easier for Christians if they didn’t admit to their faith in some difficult situations
For us, the temptation to re-write Christian faith in a version that suits us is enormous, and it’s wrong. – to be a disciple is to accept, learn from and follow the teaching of Jesus. I don’t mean that we can just sign up to some fundamentalist interpretation. We still have to do the work: interpreting scripture, reviewing the tradition, thinking hard. It’s just that we know that fallen humanity – everybody in this imperfect and bent world – doesn’t think quite straight. The bend is most visible when we are letting ourselves off the hook!
To be a twenty-first century disciple of Jesus is wonderful, most important – and involves some hard work.