When Jesus noticed the eagerness of the people to listen to his message and to get miraculous favors for their sufferings, he shared his power with his apostles and sent them out to preach the gospel and to perform miracles in his name. However, Jesus cautioned them of the sacrifices involved in the ministry. Though Jesus’ goal of his Kingdom is peace at the end, its effect in the world could be conflicts in the family and persecutions from the authorities because of people’s opposing approaches to the gospel. If one has to select between the gospel and the family, Jesus wants his disciples to give priority to the faith. They have to carry the burdens of Christian witnessing along with Jesus. Loss in the world is worth for eternal life than the temporal achievements of this world. Jesus promised reward for the supporters of his disciples. Let us give priority to the Kingdom of God by continuing the mission of Jesus and support his representatives in their mission and pastoral ministry.
BIBLE TEXT (MATTHEW 10:34-42)
Jesus: A Cause of Division
(Mt 10:34) Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. (35) For I have come to set a man against his father and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. (36) Your enemies will be the members of your own family.
The Conditions of Discipleship
(Mt 10:37) Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. (38) And whoever does not take up his cross and come after me is not worthy of me. (39) He who cares only for his own life will lose it; he who loses his life for my sake will find it.
(Mt 10:40) Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the One who sent me. (41) Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive the reward of a prophet; whoever welcomes a just man because he is just will receive the reward of a just man. (42) And I promise you if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones, because he is a disciple of mine, will not go unrewarded.”
Matthew gives the sermon on the Mount of Jesus in chapters five to seven, followed by a series of miracles he performed in chapters eight and nine. By the end of that section, Matthew reports, “At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd” (Mt 9:36). Then Jesus told the disciples, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest” (Mt 9:37-38). Jesus found a solution to the problem by sharing his authority with the apostles to preach, to drive out the unclean spirits, and to cure every disease (Mt 10:1). He initially sent them out to the lost sheep of Israel (Mt 10:5-15). Jesus also predicted the persecutions they must face in the future while working for the Kingdom of God (Mt 10:16-18). He assured them of the guidance of the Holy Spirit during their trials before the authorities (Mt 10:19-20). Jesus promised the disciples, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father” (Mt 10:32). He warned, “But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father” (Mt 10:33).
Jesus: A Cause of Division
(Mt 10:34) Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth.
The popular understanding of the role of the Messiah had its influence on the disciples. The prophets had predicted a peaceful and joyful world under the leadership of the Messiah upon his arrival. Isaiah prophesied the Messiah would be a “Prince of Peace. His dominion is vast and forever peaceful” (Isa 9:5-6). When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a multitude of heavenly host with the angel of the Lord, praised God saying: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Lk 2:13-14).
However, the peace that Jesus brought differed from the understanding of the worldly peace. At the last supper, Jesus clarified it. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you” (Jn 14:27). The Christians gain “peace with God” through the sacrifice of Jesus and their faith in him (Rom 5:1). Hence, the peace of Christ is not a lack of war or conflict, but our reconciliation and loving relationship with God. Jesus will establish the kingdom with everlasting peace, as the prophets foretold, only at his second coming. Thus, Jesus corrected the misunderstanding of the apostles on the Messianic peace.
I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
In a literal sense, this verse would seem Jesus came as a rebel to fight or to ignite conflict. That would contradict with his teaching, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Mt 5:9). Jesus even promised reward in heaven for those who tolerate persecution. “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven” (Mt 5:11-12).
The sword is an instrument for attack, and hence, it is a symbol of war. Jesus did not carry any sword with him, did not wage any war, or did not instruct to attack the enemies. His approach was just the opposite of the worldly and Jewish style, as given below:
If the intention of Jesus was not to fight or instigate retaliation, how can we understand his saying, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword”? The sword of Jesus, in a metaphorical sense, is the Word of God he introduced. It has the following effects:
Jesus did not present the sword as his weapon or battle as his goal. However, his mission can cause conflict in the world. His disciples would face the same consequence he encountered from the opponents. The wicked people would take swords against them or torture them. The disciples should not fight back, and they did not. Jesus sent the apostles with the following instruction: “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves” (Mt 10:16).
Jesus’ teaching to react when facing opposition was not retaliation. “When they persecute you in one town, flee to another” (Mt 10:23). Jesus even taught to love and support the enemies. “But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic. Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back” (Lk 6:27-30). His intention was not success for his disciples in this world but self-sacrifice like Jesus did for the Kingdom of God.
Though Jesus came as the Prince of Peace, his peace is not an instant accomplishment. Besides facing persecution from the opposing religious leaders and civil authorities, Christians would face challenges even from their family and community for the Kingdom of God. Thus Jesus, prepared his disciples to face challenges in faith and persecution. That has been continuing in the church’s history. The followers enjoy internal peace in this world and eternal joy in the afterlife or after the second coming of Christ.
(35) For I have come to set a man against his father and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.
Here also Jesus’ intention or the purpose of his gospel is not family conflict. The family disputes can arise as an outcome of the opposing views of the family members to the church he established. If a person joins the church, the other family members might oppose it. Or conflict can happen in a family when someone leaves the church while others insist on the person to keep up the faith. If we look at this in the background of church persecution when the evangelists were completing the gospels, there were dropouts from the church who compelled their family members to give up their faith. Their intention was to prevent persecution and martyrdom for their dear ones. Thus, there was conflict within a family between those who were firm in faith and others who deserted the gospel. Such a dispute within the family can emotionally hurt, like the wounds caused by a sword.
Jesus gave reference to Micah who prophesied, “For the son belittles his father, the daughter rises up against her mother, The daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, and your enemies are members of your household” (Mic 7:6). Though such conflict is natural in families, Jesus refers this to the family dispute based on faith.
(36) Your enemies will be the members of your own family.
Though there can be enmity between family members, the cause of conflict here is based on faith in Jesus, as it is clear from the following verses. Because of opposing views on religion, a disciple’s opponent can be family members. During the severe persecution, the members of the family who oppose the church might betray their own family members who uphold the Christian faith. “Brother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved” (Mt 10:21-22). Thus, Jesus foresaw the future of the church and warned his followers what they could expect in this world. However, he promised eternal reward to those who would persist to the end.
The Conditions of Discipleship
(Mt 10:37) Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
God’s foremost commandment is, “I am the LORD your God … You shall not have other gods beside me. … I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God” (Ex 20:2-5). Even love of children more than God is not acceptable. “A man of God came to Eli” and asked him, “Why do you honor your sons more than you honor me, fattening yourselves with the choicest part of every offering of my people Israel?” (1 Sam 2:29).
Jesus was stricter in family relations than the teachings of the elders on honoring parents. He taught, “For God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘Whoever curses father or mother shall die.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to father or mother, Any support you might have had from me is dedicated to God, need not honor his father.’ You have nullified the word of God for the sake of your tradition” (Mt 15:4-6). However, there can be instances when one might get pressure from parents, other family members, or friends to give up faith for family unity. In such a case, faith should be the priority because only Jesus and not the family members can give us eternal salvation. Jesus’ goal was not to devalue the family bonds, but to highlight the importance of faithfulness to him.
Once a Pharisee who was also a scholar of the law asked Jesus, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” (Mt 22:36). Quoting Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments” (Mt 22:37-40). Hence, love and fidelity to God has priority over the love of fellow humans, which includes one’s family members. Jesus clarified to his followers that in case a conflict arises based on belief, the precedence is for faith. So, a disciple can be subject to family hatred because of faith in Jesus.
For Jesus, all his faithful followers are also his family. Once someone informed him, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, asking to speak with you.” His response was, “‘Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?’ And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother’” (Mt 12:46-50).
(38) And whoever does not take up his cross and come after me is not worthy of me.
Like the sword mentioned above, Jesus used cross also in a metaphorical sense. He volunteered to carry the cross in the literal sense because according to the Roman practice the convict had to carry his cross on the way to crucifixion. By Jesus’ use of the cross, it got symbolic meanings:
take up his cross and come after me
By this statement, Jesus predicted the type of sacrifice he was going to undertake. “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (Jn 3:14-15). He invited his disciples to follow him by carrying their hardships for the Kingdom of God. Thus, Jesus prepared them to face persecution. So, the apostles and other disciples accepted the hard path without complaint. “To carry the cross” is a figurative expression of the Christians’ dedication to endure opposition and burdens for the gospel.
whoever does not take up his cross and come after me is not worthy of me.
Jesus wants his disciples to be active in continuing his mission in the world until his second coming. The nominal or passive followers are not worthy of discipleship. Paul did not complain about the hardships he faced for evangelization; instead, he proudly lists what he endured: “Five times at the hands of the Jews I received forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I passed a night and a day on the deep; on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own race, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, dangers among false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many sleepless nights, through hunger and thirst, through frequent fastings, through cold and exposure. And apart from these things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches” (2 Cor 11:24-28).
(39) He who cares only for his own life will lose it; he who loses his life for my sake will find it.
He who cares only for his own life will lose it
The life used here has a double meaning: the life in the world or temporal life, and the life in heaven or eternal life. For the world, the origin and destiny of life are uncertain. According to the Bible, life originates from God. It lost its sanctity by the sin of humanity. Jesus came to restore it and lead people to eternal life in heaven. Thus, God has a purpose in His creation and for sending his Son among us. When the worldly people look for achievements in this life and ignore Jesus Christ and his church, they end up in eternal destruction. So, Jesus asked, “What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” (Mk 8:36). For Jesus, “life is more than food and the body more than clothing” (Lk 12:23). He said to the crowd, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions” (Lk 12:15). “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be” (Mt 6:19-21).
He who loses his life for my sake will find it.
God the Father gave His Son authority over all people to give us eternal life. We attain this life by knowing the only true God and Jesus whom He sent (Jn 17:2-3). The Christian should seek the eternal reward at the expense of sacrifices in this life for the Kingdom of God. According to James, “Blessed is the man who perseveres in temptation, for when he has been proved he will receive the crown of life that he promised to those who love him” (Jm 1:12).
(Mt 10:40) Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the One who sent me.
Whoever welcomes you welcomes me
Jesus had only over three years of public ministry. He had a succession plan to continue his mission, for which he selected twelve apostles and seventy-two disciples representing the twelve tribes of Israel. After his resurrection, he sent the apostles saying, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (Jn 20:21). He continues the ministry through his church and his representatives even now. Those who welcome and listen to them are receiving and obeying Jesus. Those who persecute the church are persecuting Jesus. That was clear from the Risen Lord’s question to Saul on his way to Damasus: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4).
When we receive and support a less fortunate person in the society, we are welcoming Jesus and when we ignore them, we deny support to Jesus. Jesus presented this as the words of the last judgement. “Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ … ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me’” (Mt 25:34-36, 40).
whoever welcomes me welcomes the One who sent me.
God who sent his Son Jesus to the world asked the apostles Peter, James, and John to listen to him during the time of transfiguration of Jesus (Mt 17:5; Mk 9:7; Lk 9:35). While clarifying on the last judgement Jesus said, “Nor does the Father judge anyone, but he has given all judgment to his Son, so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him” (Jn 5:22-23). During the Last Supper discourse, Jesus said, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; yet the word you hear is not mine but that of the Father who sent me” (Jn 14:23-24).
(41) Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive the reward of a prophet; whoever welcomes a just man because he is just will receive the reward of a just man.
Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet
Prophet is a person God sends among the people to speak on behalf of Him. God said to Moses: “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kindred, and will put my words into the mouth of the prophet; the prophet shall tell them all that I command. Anyone who will not listen to my words which the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will hold accountable for it. But if a prophet presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded, or speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die” (Deut 18:18-20). The LORD touched Jeremiah’s mouth with His hand, saying, “See, I place my words in your mouth!” (Jer 1:9). To Isaiah the LORD said, “I have put my words into your mouth” (Isa 51:16).
The meaning of the Greek word “prophetes” is one who speaks out or is an advocate. God revealed to them in visions or spoke to them in dreams. When Aaron and Miriam spoke against their brother Moses, God told them, “If there are prophets among you, in visions I reveal myself to them, in dreams I speak to them” (Num 12:6). However, as an exception, God spoke to Moses face to face (Num 12:8).
Prophets were also visionaries of the future because of their spiritual insight to foresee the future. They redirected people to God and His commandments when they deviated from Him. The prophets questioned moral and religious abuses in the society. They also predicted the fate of Israel depending upon their acceptance or rejection of the message from God. The Bible has over 133 named prophets, including sixteen women prophets. Ancient leaders like Abraham (Gen 20:7), Jacob, Joseph, Moses (Deut 18:15; 34:10), Joshua, Samuel, and David had prophetic roles. Miriam (Ex 15:20) and Deborah (Judg 4:4) were prophetesses. Elijah and Elisha were popular prophets who performed miracles. Hosea, Amos, Joel, and Jonah were prophets of the Northern Israel. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Obadiah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah prophesied in Judah. Ezekiel and Daniel served during the Babylonian exile. Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi were prophets of the restoration.
There were also false prophets during the Old and New Testament period. Jesus warned against false prophets. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves” (Mt 7:15). He also foretold their arrival during the end times. “False messiahs and false prophets will arise, and they will perform signs and wonders so great as to deceive, if that were possible, even the elect” (Mt 24:24).
In the New Testament, John the Baptist (Mt 11:9) and Jesus (Lk 13:33; 24:19) were the main prophets. Jesus selected twelve apostles and ordained them to continue his mission as priests, prophets, and leaders. That mission continues through the ordained ministers of the church. The ancient church had a special order of prophets (1 Cor 12:28; Eph 2:20; 3:5).
Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive the reward of a prophet
Because the apostles preached the message of Jesus on his behalf, they were prophets. Whoever welcomed them respected Jesus, who sent them. The Lord will reward such hosts for the hospitality they extended to the apostles and for receptivity to their doctrine. The hosts will benefit from the teachings of the prophets and reward in heaven that God would give to the prophets. “Whatever you do, do from the heart, as for the Lord and not for others, knowing that you will receive from the Lord the due payment of the inheritance; be slaves of the Lord Christ” (Col 3:23-24).
whoever welcomes a just man because he is just will receive the reward of a just man.
When Jesus sent out his apostles, they had the double task of preaching the gospel and performing miracles in his name. “As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons” (Mt 10:7-8). Proclaiming the gospel was their prophetic role and doing acts of mercy through the miracles was the role of a just man.
According to the Hebrew Bible, righteousness is one of the chief attributes of God. Righteousness stands for good ethical conduct. “You shall not pervert justice in measuring length, weight or quantity” (Lev 19:35). In the Biblical context, a just person means one who is faithful to God and to the society. The Bible characterizes Noah, Abraham, Job, Jesus’ foster father Joseph, and others as righteous people. They had God-assigned special roles in the salvation history, which they faithfully accomplished. The apostles were just men in that role. God called their successors and other disciples of Jesus throughout the centuries to do the righteous work of God. Those who welcome them and cooperate with them will also receive the rewards equivalent to a righteous person. “For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay everyone according to his conduct” (Mt 16:27).
(42) And I promise you if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones, because he is a disciple of mine, will not go unrewarded.”
I promise you
After assuring reward for those who receive prophets and righteous persons in the name of Jesus, he goes one step further, promising reward even for supporting a humble disciple of Jesus. Since it is a promise, the reward will come later, in heaven.
if anyone gives
Even a poor person could give a cup of “cold water” to a Christ’s disciple. Such a person will receive the reward because the service was for a representative of Jesus.
even a cup of cold water
Offering water to drink was a significant hospitality during the Biblical times. People who walked long distance and their animals needed water for their survival. When Abraham’s servant traveled to Nahor in search of a bride for Isaac, Rebekah gave water to him and his animals. The servant selected that generous virgin as the spouse for Isaac (Gen 24:1-28). When the Israelites were thirsty during their journey in the desert, God provided them water from rock through miracle to save them from death (Ex 17:1-7; Num 20:7-11).
Jesus expected hospitality, food, and other necessities of life for the twelve apostles and seventy-two disciples from those benefitted from their preaching and favors through miracles. So, he instructed them to carry only minimum items so they could move around freely (Mk 6:8-9; Lk 9:3). Even the poor people could afford to offer “cold water” to their guests. Cold water was valuable for those who walk long distances on a sunny day when water was unavailable on the wayside. Offering such a help was an ancient practice by generous people. Jesus offered reward even for such a favor for his chosen ones.
A cup of “cold water” symbolizes the smallest service anyone can afford. When Jesus noticed a poor widow putting two coins worth a few cents in the Temple treasury, he appreciated her offering (Mk 12:41-44). Those who could provide more can do so. The willingness to receive the disciples was more important than what the host could afford. Even minor support to the disciples is worthy of heavenly reward.
to one of these little ones
Jesus qualified the apostles as prophets, righteous men, and little ones by gradually descending in grade to include all his followers in the future. For a Rabbi, his disciples were “the little ones.” Using “the little ones,” Jesus could also mean simple people who are like little children or innocent in behavior. When the disciples asked Jesus, “‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, ‘Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me” (Mt 18:1-5). So, the “least ones” could be the apostles or any innocent and humble follower of Jesus. Any receptivity and favor for them in the name of Jesus will be eligible for reward in heaven. Jesus’ verdict includes, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40).
because he is a disciple of mine
Help to any poor person is rewarding. However, when one supports a missionary of Christ, the reward is higher. Jesus considered any favor to his disciple as a gift to him because they were his ambassadors.
will not go unrewarded
The supporters of the missionaries are also part of the evangelization team. Hence, they deserve reward like other workers in Jesus’ vineyard. Paul instructs, “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it. Some people God has designated in the church to be, first, apostles; second, prophets; third, teachers; then, mighty deeds; then, gifts of healing, assistance, administration, and varieties of tongues” (1 Cor 12:27-28). God will repay the help we provide for those who deserve it. “Whoever cares for the poor lends to the LORD, who will pay back the sum in full” (Prov 19:17). Thus, we will “store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal” (Mt 6:20). We will be eligible to hear from the Lord at the last judgement, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me” (Mt 25:34-36).