I have to admit that this passage has always troubled me. It is about not being afraid when being maligned by others, or not fearing those who can destroy the body but not the soul. It is about things that are now covered up being revealed. It is about darkness and light. It is about rumors and secret information. It is about being of more value than birds. It is about witnessing and denying. It is about divisions in families. One can say from this passage that following Jesus is Risky Business.
I remember years ago when I was a teenager in army cadets and was considering the Officers Training Program, I was presented in the interview with all kinds of dreadful scenarios of what could happen to you of the battlefield or even in the training program. They wanted us to know what we were getting into. They wanted to test our commitment to the program. They wanted to weed out those who were unwilling to take the necessary risks. It could be that Jesus was doing the same kind of thing. He wanted his followers to know that following him was to find the true meaning of your life, but there were also risks. It was to be indeed “risky business”
A scene in Herman Melville s Moby Dick may suggest something of the measure of what one must anticipate who signs on to be one of Jesus people. Recall how Ishmael comes to Captain Peleg to sign on for the voyage of Captain Ahab’s Pequod.
“What makes thee want to go a-whaling-——eh? I want to know that before I think of shipping ye. . . Ever been in a stove boat? . . . Now art thou the man to pitch a harpoon down a live whale’s throat, and then jump after it? Answer, quick! . . . Want to see what whaling is, eh? . . . Clap an eye on Captain Ahab, young man, and thou wilt find he has only one leg. . . . I want to know these things before I think of shipping ye.”
The story stands as a clear parallel to qualifying for this other kind of fishing expedition——the Christian life with all of its tasks, missions, and ministries. It does not seem farfetched to re mythologize the Moby Dick incident of Ishmael and the whaling expedition so that it becomes a parable for what it takes to be one of Jesus people. What makes us think we might be qualified for the “stove boat,” the “harpoon and the whale’s throat,” to follow the Master who carries scars in his hands and side? We re not contemplating a frolic on a sunfish in some well-protected harbor. Christ signs on only those serious about doing business on the great waters of life. How can anyone tell if that business is for him or her? We find it unmistakably spelled out in chapter 10 so that none can miss what is required for the voyage with Jesus.(1)
Following Jesus is risky business even though we might want to concentrate on the benefits of following Jesus rather than the risks involved.
I think the benefits of following Jesus is found in the last words of the passage Matthew 10:39, “…those who lose their life for my sake will find it”. I don’t think that “losing their life” means only dying. I believe that “losing your life” may mean losing your ego-centered life and finding your true self. “Losing your life” may be in the acknowledgment of Jesus before others. That may be more in actions more than words. Jesus healed others and acknowledging him may mean being a healing presence in our world and relationships. Jesus loved others and acknowledging him may mean being a loving presence to others. Jesus fed the hungry and acknowledging him my be a caring presence in our community. Jesus stood by others even those despised by others and acknowledging him may be to do the same and be a supporting presence to those who are considered to be on the fringe of society. When we are involved in the lives of others in this way we lose our egocentric selves but find our true selves. We are in touch with our souls.
However, we can’t get away from the risks involved in this life-losing work. Your healing presence could be a threat to those who benefit from people being addicted to various substances and life-styles. Your loving, caring and supporting presence may lead to you be considered as outcasts in the same way as those who you help. People may even think you have gone completely “mad”, even members of your family. They may be afraid of being “tarred with the same brush” as you and treated in the same despicable way.
We all want to feel safe, worthy, and loved in this world but there are no guarantee that we will find these things from other people when we follow. Two illustrations of this are instructive to us:
During the sixties some ministers came to Bishop Lloyd C. Wicke of The United Methodist Church and told him they wanted to take a firm stand for racial equality in their communities but wanted him to guarantee them that they would be protected from the possible opposition in the churches they served. They reminded the bishop of the importance of the prophetic dimension of ministry. Bishop Wicke affirmed their intentions but then added, ‘‘I do not remember any of the prophets getting a safe conduct guarantee, or even wanting it.”
In an issue of Time magazine there was an article on Roman Catholic Bishop Sheil, who in 1939 became inolved in social concerns and backed some meat packers who were on strike. One day, as he was about to speak on thier behalf, a Catholic banker told him “Your Excellency, the minute you step on that platform you lose your chance to become an archbishop.” Sheil eyed the man directly. “You should know,”he replied,”that I wasn’t ordained a priest to become an archbishop.” (2)
It is the egocentric self that looks for these things in the outwards circumstances of our lives. Our true selves that we find in Christ find safety, worthiness, and love from within in our ultimate relationship with God.
When we are willing to take the risk of losing your egocentric self for Christ and the Gospel we truly find the peace that passes all understand both in Jesus and our true selves.
“Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
(1) Robert E. Luccock Preaching Through Matthew , Abingdon Publishers, Nashville, 1980 p. 88-89
(2) Pulpit Resource Vol 9, No.2 compiled by Glendon Harris, Byron Calif , 1981
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