Posted under The Rectory Bulletin | Sundays
“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.
“So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 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. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 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. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
In watching football there can be no more awkward experience than watching your team play away. You are in a strange land where things seem familiar, but oddly different. The seats are the wrong colours, the toilets are in the wrong place and whilst the chants have the same tune the words are different. You don’t know the best place to stand (good view of pitch, decent cover from rain) and most of the stadium is out of bounds to you. There - right over there in the far corner, behind the pillars - that’s where the away fans sit.
As the crowds gather, the home fans eventually turn their attention to you and the taunting begins (and never ends). You get a little respite if they concede a goal, but then the jeering slowly build back up again until you have to make the risky journey out of the stadium. Best to wait a while to do that.
Given all this you might be tempted just to sit in the normal stands. After all your team only gets allocated a few tickets and there are many more seats available in the rest of the stands. You might be sat amongst the home fans, but at least it will be more comfortable. If the away tickets are all sold, it might be the only way you’ll get to see the match and the facilities will be better. Sure, you won’t be able to wear anything that identifies you as supporting the other side but you can live with that.
So off you go, wearing indiscriminate clothing and trying to look as if you fit in. You can’t join in the chants, but not everyone does anyway. It’s a bit awkward, but doable. In fact, given nothing much happened in the first half as you sit and read your programme you even begin to wonder if you might try this again some time. Twenty minutes later, the ball is booted from one end of the pitch to the other and as the melee in the goal-mouth clears it become evident that your team has scored. Instinctively you jolt upwards, but your mind quickly takes over and forces down the compulsion to leap up and cheer. All around you are howls of protests - the ball didn’t cross the line, that player was fouled - and in the midst of this swirling outrage you sit quietly, feeling you have betrayed your team. You have denied them by taking the easy route and trying to fit into the home crowd. You don’t belong here, they’ll find out eventually. Perhaps you should go, but there you sit, longing that your team would score again. But hoping they don’t. You feel like Peter as the cock crowed, and you realised you’d thrice denied Christ.
Strangely - oddly - this sense of alienation, of being surrounded by a hostile group, is what Jesus addresses in today’s reading. We might like to think of gentle Jesus, meek and mild, telling us all to get along but the reality is that “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 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. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” There is something about the Christian message which comes with a cost, comes with a separation from those around us.
We might dismiss this (even thought the words are utter by Jesus himself) but I am sure we’ve all felt this to some extent. Perhaps keeping quiet as the church or the faith is ridiculed, or sighing silently as that family member begins to tell you precisely why you must be stupid to be a Christian. Again. All our tongues have bitten, and our mouths kept shut. Your shoulders slump, and you trudge on.
Jesus diagnoses this as an issue of loyalty. God demands of us our entire loyalty to him. It’s baked into the very words which we use. When we call Jesus “Lord”, we are placing ourselves in the role of servant. The very words translated ‘worship’ in the Bible reflect this. They speak of service, bowing down and fear. Read the dictionary definition of the most frequently used word for worship in the New Testament: “to express in attitude or gesture one’s complete dependence on or submission to a high authority figure, (fall down and) worship, do obeisance to, prostrate oneself before, do reverence to, welcome respectfully…”.
Never forget, though, that this is a two way street. As we call Jesus “Lord” we come under his protection. As we place all our loyalty at the feet of God, we gain eternal security from the one who knows even the number of hairs on our head. As we make following God our priority, rather than our own desires and fear, we discover life in all its abundance.
In a society which increasingly sees itself as post-Christian it will become more and more tempting to try and be away supporters sitting in the home stands, thinking we can get away with it. In the end, though, it is easier to simply be who we are: followers of Christ. It might mean the odd remark, a fleeting frown and a cost to our reputation but, as Jesus says, “whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it”. The fearful Peter denied his saviour, but a few weeks later the bold Peter saw three thousand converted at Pentecost.
“So have no fear of them”. After all, your dad’s bigger than their dad.