HOMILY: Matthew 10: 16-23

YOU ARE NOT THE ONES SPEAKING, BUT THE SPIRIT OF YOUR FATHER WHO WILL SPEAK IN YOU. When we read the Gospels we tend quite naturally to interpret the text as it strikes us in our actual situation. And in fact, the teachings there are intended to find application in a wide variety of conditions. Some of the doctrines they set forth are meant to guide us in all circumstances, such as those that speak of love of God and neighbor, of justice, chastity and the like. However, others have quite specific situations in mind and are intended to guide us in those particular circumstances. In order rightly to interpret the text and to experience the full impact of many passages we need to make a special effort to place ourselves in the context of the times in which the author wrote. Today's Gospel segment is just such an instance. It is quite a different matter to be told to face the world with the courage of confidence in God when we are in a situation of security and relative tranquility than to be urged to trust when our well-being, or even our life is threatened.

Matthew is writing for believers who, in order to live the message of the Gospel, are going to have to deal with the hostility of Jewish authorities who are bent on persecuting them.

See now! I am sending you like sheep amidst wolves, so be prudent as serpents and yet as simple as doves. But take care in your dealings with men for they will hand you over to their courts, and will scourge you in their assemblies. You will be led before magistrates and kings for my sake to give witness to them and to the gentiles. But when they hand you over do not be anxious about how or what you are to say. For God will give you what your are to say at that moment.

These lines serve as the introduction to the text that was cited at the beginning of this homily: YOU ARE NOT THE ONES SPEAKING, BUT THE SPIRIT OF YOUR FATHER WHO WILL SPEAK IN YOU. The kind of trust that instills a tranquil confidence, firm under the most severe pressure of disapproval, virulent hatred and the threat of torture and death is the fundamental disposition that our Lord sought to instill in his followers. It is the lesson he intends us to learn today as we hear his words proclaimed at this Eucharist. Understood in all their stark demands these words of our Lord challenge us to enter the deep places of our heart and examine our inmost dispositions, so that they might be brought into conformity with the requirements of fidelity, even under the most adverse circumstances should they occur. This requires that we examine our behavior in everyday life as we encounter the pressures and temptations associated with ordinary social dealings with others, even with those well-disposed to us. Unless we bring his teaching to bear upon our daily choices and decisions so as to form our ordinary lives according to his will and commands, we can hardly expect to be guided by his Spirit in times of temptation and stress.

It is not only the hostility of declared enemies of the faith that we must be ready to confront. As our Lord taught on other occasions, it is often those closest to us, even members of our own family or community, who may present us with the most insidious as well as the most frequent temptations.

Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the world; I have not come to bring peace but the sword. I have come to divide a man from his father and the daughter from her mother and a daughter-in-law from her mother-in-law. A man's enemies will be those of his own household (Matthew 10: 35).

Affection and the desire for approval by those whose love and opinion we value, readily lead us to compromise our commitment to God's cause unless we remain on our guard against yielding to the pull of natural association and ties. Take care, be careful are expressions often on our Lord's lips. We hear it here in this gospel in fact: Watch out for men, they will betray you, he warns his disciples. People betray us most commonly not by handing us over to the authorities, but by leading us to prefer their love to the sacrifices necessary to carry out God's will. We must take care lest our affection or regard for them gradually weakens the resolve to make God's will our guide in all things. "The one who loves father or mother ... son or daughter (and we can add "friend or brother or sister") more than me is not worthy of me." Our Lord himself makes this pronouncement in this same chapter of Matthew.

While Jesus repeatedly warned his disciples to be attentive to the movements of their heart so as not to be led astray, yet his chief concern was to instill confidence and a climate of trust in God's care and love. His message is one of hope that stimulates to action in the service of God and of neighbor, of friends and of society as a whole. The passage cited at the head of this talk is one of the strongest assurances of the loving protection of God for those of his children who make themselves over to him in faith. It is the only instance in the Bible where there is mention of THE SPIRIT OF YOUR FATHER. Knowing the anxieties to which we are prey when we must deal with hatred joined to power, Jesus sought to instill courage in his followers by a consideration that he considered most assuring: YOU ARE NOT THE ONES SPEAKING, BUT THE SPIRIT OF YOUR FATHER WHO WILL SPEAK IN YOU.

Christ the Teacher

The message here is that the Father loves those who accept his son and put their faith in him. We will not be left to ourselves in times of temptation and stress but can count on his loving protection and the assistance of his own Spirit. This is one of the major promises of the New Testament and is a solid basis for our hope that God is truly our Savior. Our confidence is based not upon our strength of character or virtue, however seriously we are to labor at cultivating these; rather, our hope is based upon God's fidelity to his promises. This saying of Jesus is surely one of the most consoling for if the Spirit of God is for us, who shall condemn us or separate us from his love?

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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