Today’s Gospel is a commentary on discipleship. The feast days that we have been celebrating have been left behind and we are in the midst of ordinary time. And here we have a passage from Matthew chapter 10 addressing us on discipleship. What are the take away messages in this text?
The first part of the gospel talks about the Christian’s primary relationship to Christ. For the first hearers of this text that statement would have been shocking. In the first century, and indeed for many centuries to come, the family ties of blood constituted the preeminent bond for any individual. Strict loyalty to that family bond, including the commitments that went with it – sometimes including inter-family marriage, and always characterised by obedience to the paterfamilias (at least in the roman world) or obedience to the male head of the household meant that family ties were the strongest ties that held together individual people and society. It is in the face of this reality that Matthew’s Gospel asserts that unless you prefer Christ to these family ties you are not worthy of being called a disciple. This is a radical (and a shocking) claim. For this new community, that later in this passage will be referred to as the little ones or the vulnerable ones, a new relationship is forged in solidarity with the human family, based on the person of Christ.
What does all of this mean? It means that for those who take the name disciple, a follower of Christ, the bond of union with Christ, sealed at baptism, pervades their life. This notion is picked up by the powerful and enduring prayer attributed to Saint Patrick in the 5th century as he went about his ministry in Ireland.
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
Christ in my rising and in my lying down.
So to follow Christ, is to break into another world which is characterised by Christ and his righteousness or his pursuit of new relationships for the human family based on justice, and inclusion and nourished by hospitality and prayer.
Matthews gospel describes the experience as the welcoming of the prophet and the holy man. The prophet is the one who will proclaim the sometimes uncomfortable call of the disciple, to see all of humanity as the creation of God and part of God’s family- not just the ones deemed to be family. The family of God also include the ‘family-less’: those who fall between the cracks of society. Today they may be the non-citizen, the asylum seeker, the itinerant homeless, the family member who breaks the mould or rebels, the child who will not conform, the spirit that cannot be tamed. The disciple is called to give a welcome voice and a prophet voice – a voice of peace, a voice of comfort, a voice of embrace as well as a voice of challenge, a call to conversion, the holding up of a mirror, the naming of injustice to all who will listen. And the disciple is vulnerable in this mission – Matthew will call them a ‘little one’ – one who feels the embrace of Christ and moves outward. These little ones, these missionary disciples are vulnerable to the world. And anyone who gives them even a cup of water will be rewarded because they are quenching the thirst of Christ himself.
Today, now as ever, we are address by the gospel to unite ourselves and surround ourselves with Christ – beside, above, below, around – and in the simplest ways we can to speak his word of truth which is not always wanted, to bring his word of peace which is always needed, and to recognise him in vulnerable humanity – where he will always be found.