Are you as a public minister a source of division or a source of blessing? Just as it was with Jesus, so it is with you. That means the answer to the question is a paradoxical “Yes.”
For three straight Sundays, we’re hearing Jesus’ commissioning address to the Twelve. As Jesus prepares the Twelve for their mission, he’s certainly in no danger of painting an overly rosy picture of how awesome public ministry in his name would be. Throughout his address Jesus speaks bluntly of the hostility that will confront them just as it confronted him.
But nowhere in this extended address does he address that hostility more shockingly than in the gospel for Pentecost 6 (Matthew 10:34-42). Here he who is truly the Prince of Peace – the giver of rest for the weary of heart (see next Sunday’s gospel!) – stuns us by stating that, as far as the outward peace so prized by the world is concerned, he is the Duke of Division! And what is really offensive is that this division refuses to keep a respectable distance from our own thresholds! What he had introduced briefly in verse 21, he now states with quadruple repetitive finality: the division caused by the proclamation of Christ can and will rip apart the closest blood and family ties. Some who share our bloodline, or at least our last name, will either temporarily or permanently push away his offered peace as something distasteful, unneeded, or unwanted. And you will be among the first they will blame because you speak for Christ. Such are the perks of public ministry!
Yet at the very same time that you are the source of so much division, as Christ’s clay jar ambassador, you are the source of incredible blessing! With the same intensity that some will hate you, others will dearly love you. And just as the division was highlighted in quadruple repetition, so is the blessing you bring them! They will love you because, as they receive your message, they receive Jesus himself as well as the Father who sent him. As they receive you because you are God’s prophet, they receive the profit you bear: your gracious reward of eternal life becomes theirs. As they receive you as one whose gracious gain is a not guilty verdict in Jesus, so in Christ they gain that same righteousness. And no kindness expressed to you because you are the representative source of so much blessing will ever be forgotten. Yes, even that cup of cold water God will write large in his records as the evidence of faith he will honor on the last day…and beyond!
The fourfold division, and this fourfold blessing, are eight planets in the same solar system revolving around the gravitational pull of a single verse at the center of Sunday’s gospel. “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (39). With those words Jesus declares that there is no other way for his children to live than to be simultaneously a source of division and blessing. If we try to shake off the division we bring by holding on at all costs to a life of outward peace with others, that will inevitably rob us of being able to be a blessing to anyone (including ourselves!). But for Jesus’ sake to lose that outward acceptance this world calls life means we remain a source of endless blessing to others because we are daily finding anew the blessing of the life that is ours in Jesus.
So, sorry, you cannot be a source of blessing in this life without being a source of division. Jesus has inseparably joined the two for every believer, and in no believer’s life may that often be more evident than in the lives of those who serve him in public ministry.
So, the next time division for the sake of Christ pays a visit to your ministry, to your church family, or even to your own family, don’t be surprised. He told you it would be this way. But remember also what else he promised. Every tear shed because of division for Jesus’ name only serves to water a crop of incredible blessing just waiting to bear fruit for you and others. Yes, somehow, in ways beyond our full grasp, with division comes…blessing!