This passage from Matthew’s discourse on mission tells us of the cost of discipleship.
The proclamation of the Gospel is a challenge to the existing norms in society, and wherever this proclamation is done seriously, it is taken as a threat to be crushed.
This is why right from its very beginnings, those who proclaim the Gospel have been persecuted – whether flogged in the synagogues by the Jewish establishment or brought before pagan rulers, governors and kings. This is true even today.
Bearing witness to the Lord is not something which depends on individual skill or technique; it is a gift of the Spirit, a charism. This is why the disciple is told not to worry about what he is to say at that hour, or how he is to say it. It will be the Spirit speaking through him which will bear witness.
The cost of discipleship is not just in the public arena, but at home as well. Tensions will arise within families and split them asunder because of the demands of being a disciple. Allegiance to the Lord and his values takes precedence over even the sacred bonds of marriage and filial relationship, and families will break up because of this. In such times of crisis what is important is to keep the faith, to hold on to one’s beliefs, not to succumb to the fear of persecution and death.
There is an allusion to the Endtime here – not to the ‘end of the world’, but to the end of a world, the world of Judaism and Temple worship, the settled world of Palestine we read of in the Gospels. In the year 70, barely a generation after Jesus’s death, Roman armies destroyed the Temple at Jerusalem and scattered the Jewish people. Jewish Christians saw this as the coming of the Son of Man in judgment. They looked forward to that day not in fear, but in hope, for the Lord would vindicate all those who had kept faith in him.