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The Mean Things Jesus Said

Jesus makes several statements in the tenth chapter of Matthew's Gospel that appears to modern western ears to be mean. Let's take a look at these statements:

Statement #1

Jesus sent the twelve off with these instructions:

"Don't go into Gentiles territory and don't go into a Samaritan town. Go instead to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." Matthew 10:5-6

This statement sounds mean. Why couldn't the disciples preach the Gospel to the Gentiles or Samaritans? Was Jesus a racist? Does Jesus have favorites? No, of course not. This passage is one where context is everything. The Gospels are not collections of timeless "sayings" of Jesus, like a collection of proverbs; the Gospels are stories about how God became King.

Part of how God became King includes the renewal of Israel. It has always been God's intention to rule the earth through human beings as His vice-regents. When Adam and Eve sinned, the world fell into chaos. God called Abraham's family to be the one through whom the rescue of God's vice-regents would come. But the problem with this solution is that Abraham's family (Israel) also descends from Adam. Therefore, before a rescue could come to the Gentiles and Samaritan world, the rescuers needed rescuing: Israel needed renewal. The disciples would eventually go to the Gentiles and Samaritans (as Jesus did with the woman at the well in John 4), but their first task was to reach Israel.

This Israel-first mandate was also because a judgment was coming soon for the Israel that rejected her renewal. Israel needed to be reached so that she could escape the coming judgment that eventually arrived with the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. So, Jesus commanded His disciples to go to Israel first so that Israel could go to the world.

Conclusion: Jesus isn't being mean or exclusive. Jesus is being practical.

Statement #2

"Don't take any gold or silver or copper in your belts; no bag for the road, no second cloak, no sandals, no stick. Workers deserve their pay." Matthew 10:9-10

It appears mean to us for Jesus to send out His disciples without any provisions! Why would Jesus do this?

One explanation is that many would-be teachers and prophets in Jesus' day would travel around claiming to be someone special and expecting favors and contributions. According to this explanation, Jesus wants to avoid any appearance that the disciples were grifters, out to make money on the mesasge. For this reason, the disciples weren't allowed to take cash or carry a bag for donations as some beggars did.

Another explanation is that Jesus was teaching His disciples to have faith in God for their provision.

I think both explanations are true. Carrying no cash means that you must rely on the generosity of those who hear your message, but not carrying a bag for donations implies that you only seek enough to meet your basic necessities. This journey is about trusting fellow Israelites who honestly seek the truth, but it is also about trusting God since humans always let us down in some capacity. There is no way this venture could succeed without God's direct provision. I believe Jesus intended this mission to be a faith-building exercise for the discples.


What appears to be a needless difficulty placed upon the disciples is actually an act of compassion, humility, integrity, and grace towards the intended audience. And this command will also provide an opportunity for the disciple's faith to grow.

Statement #3

"Don't think that it's my job to bring peace on the earth. I didn't come to bring peace—I came to bring a sword! I came to divide a man from his father, a daughter from her mother, and a daughter-in-law from her mother-in-law. Yes, you will find your enemies inside your own front door." Matthew 10:34-36

This passage seems particularly harsh. What does Jesus mean when He says that He didn't come to bring peace?! Isn't Jesus "the Prince of Peace"?! Why is Jesus wielding a sword and dividing families??

The answer to this question goes back to the same issue about Israel being the people through whom God chose to save the world. Israel's renewal must come before the rest of the world can benefit from the Gospel. Jesus has come with a sword to cut the fat off of Israel. The whole point of Jesus' choosing of twelve apostles at the beginning of chapter 10 is for the sake of redefining Israel around Himself. Many in Israel will not approve of the way Jesus draws His defining lines. Jesus is insisting that it makes no difference to Him. He didn't come to affirm Israel as she stood but to renew Israel and make her what God always intended her to be.

Conclusion: Jesus' sword is for removing junk, like a surgeon's knife. Jesus isn't delighting in discord; He is valuing purity.

Cumulative conclusion: Jesus isn't mean.

Thus ends this Sunday School lesson.

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