Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes at

Matthew 10.24-39
Proper 7 - Year A

Other texts:

These verses are part of Jesus' second discourse (10:5-42). He has selected the Twelve (10:1-4) and gives these instructions before sending them out. Like the first discourse (ch. 5-7), it seems to be a collection of various sayings.

I've used the 10 separate sayings included in our text as listed in "The Five Gospels," but put them in four groupings -- (they have five) -- and used my own titles for them. One could concentrate on any one of the sayings or groupings or try and figure out why they were put together.


1. Disciples & Slaves (10:24-25)

2. Don't Be Afraid (10:26-33)

a. The Hidden Will Be Made Known (10:26)
b. Whispered Words Will Be Shouted (10:27)
c. Whom to Fear (10:28)
d. Sparrows & Hair (10:29-31)
e. Acknowledging or Denying (10:32-33)

3. Peace or Sword (10:34-36)

4. Conditions of Discipleship (10:37-39)

a. Being Worthy of Christ (10:37)
b. Taking Up One's Cross (10:38)
c. Saving One's Life (10:39)

1. DISCIPLES & SLAVES (10:24-25)

The outline that I use connects these verses with 10:16-23 (an optional part of last week's text) where Jesus tells the disciples that he is sending them out like sheep into the midst of wolves and that they will most likely suffer persecution from authorities and family members.

Just as disciples are sent to proclaim the same words as Jesus proclaimed and do the same things Jesus has done (10:7-8), so they should also expect to face the same persecution as Jesus did. The opposition will call them names and misrepresent them. More about "Beelzebul" can be found in Mt 12:22-32.

Does the lack of opposition to our faith mean that it is strong or that it is weak? While I don't think that seeking persecution should motivate our words and actions, I also wonder if fear of ridicule or persecution keeps from doing anything? If we aren't suffering in some way, why not? Is it because we are surrounded by people who are already in Jesus' "household," or because we are failing to be witnesses?

2. DON'T BE AFRAID (10:26-33)

Three times in this grouping Jesus tells the disciples not to be afraid (vv. 26, 28, 31). Why should they be afraid? He has just told them that they are sheep in the midst of wolves. They will be flogged and arrested. They will be betrayed by family members. They will be hated by all -- and Jesus tells them not to be afraid!

Fear is a powerful motivating force. It can control our actions as it does others in Matthew:

Fear can control our words and our actions. It should not control the actions for those who trust God.

There are five different sayings in this group. All are found in Lu 12:2-9; but some are also found in Mk and Thomas.


Very similar sayings are found in Mark 4:22 and Luke 12:2. The next saying is found in Luke 12:3, but not in Mark, leading to the conclusion that they may have been separate sayings. The form of both is synonymous parallelism.

What is hidden? Who makes it known?

Looking at the first Greek word kalypto doesn't help much. Its only other use refers to the waves "covering" the boat (8:24).

The parallel word kryptos is used in 6:4 & 6 to refer to giving help to the needy in secret and praying in secret. God who sees what is done in secret will reward the giver and prayer. Are the hidden things the good deeds the saints have done which God will reveal at the Last Day?

The related verb krypto may offer some help.

It would seem that what is hidden is the Gospel -- the treasure given to us by God. The passive of "to be revealed" and "to be made known" may indicate that God is the revealer. The same word ("to reveal") is used in 11:25 of God revealing the hidden things to little children; and in 16:17 of God revealing to Peter the good confession.

However, the parables of a city on a hill and the proper stewardship of the talents also indicates that it may be our responsibility to make known what has been revealed to us. We can't keep the truth of the gospel hidden or in the dark. It was given to us to share -- not to hoard -- which leads to the next saying. What does it mean to be faithful stewards of the Gospel?


Assuming a connection with the above saying, the hidden thing is what Jesus has told us in the dark -- and we are to bring it to light. It is clearly our responsibility to make known what Jesus has said -- perhaps not literally shouting it from roof tops -- although many churches have speakers for chimes on their roofs!

Why shouldn't we be afraid to speak in the light and shout from the rooftops? Because God will make the Word known -- whether or not we participate in that proclamation. The motivation of an imminent Parousia and its coming judgment was probably a much stronger force for Matthew's readers than for us.

c. WHOM TO FEAR (10:28)

If fear is to control our actions, there is one whom we should fear above all others. The contrast between psyche (soul) and soma (body) suggests two separate parts, which is not found in the Hebrew understanding of human beings. Luke's parallel does not use psyche (12:4-5).

The origin of the word psyche comes when ancient Greeks noticed that there was something different about a dead animal and a living animal (including humans). That difference they called "psyche". Thus it refers to breath, life-force, personality, the self. It is what makes you, a living you.

Christopher Reeves, having been paralyzed from the neck down, said that after the injury he became very much aware that who he is, is more than his body. Similar illustration might be given with other handicapping conditions, e.g., cerebral palsy or stroke, where the body may not function as well as it should; but the essence of the person is more than the physical appearance or abilities. This image may be expanded to talk about relationships -- the difference between lusting after the physical appearance or loving the person.

The same two words are used in Mt 6:25 where Jesus says that the life is more than food and the body more than clothing. Psyche is used later in this chapter when Jesus says: "Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it" (10:39). psyche implies more than just physical existence, but a quality of life. There is more to life than just bodily existence. There is more to a person than his/her physical appearance.

Gehenna ("hell") is derived from the Hebrew ge-hinnom = "Valley of Hinnom". There some of the kings of Judah engaged in forbidden religious practices, including human sacrifice by fire (2 Chron. 28:3; 33:6; Jer. 7:31; 32:35). Jeremiah spoke of its judgment and destruction (Jer. 7:32; 19:6). King Josiah put an end to these practices by destroying and defiling the high place of the valley of Hinnom (2 Kings 23:10). It became a garbage dump for the city of Jerusalem. Quite literally, it could have been a place where fires never went out. Probably because of these associations with fiery destruction and judgment, the word Gehenna came to be used metaphorically during the intertestamental period as a designation for judgment and punishment. It is distinguished from Hades, the other Greek word sometimes translated "hell" and the Hebrew Sheol which were places where the dead went, but not seen as places of punishment.

In contrast to v. 28, where God can destroy "body and soul" in gehenna, 5:29-30 talks about the "whole body" (no "soul") being thrown into gehenna. The word apollymi also connects these verses. God destroys body and soul in 10:28; whereas the individual destroys or loses the sinful parts in 5:29-30.

apollymi is also used for the "lost sheep" to whom the disciples (and Jesus) are sent (10:6; 15:24) and in 10:39: "Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it."

The message that I get from these is that we are responsible for destroying our life = daily dying through repentance, so that we might find life now and not face the Great Destruction (and gehenna) at the end. This is similar to the old Fram commercials, "You can pay me now, or pay me later." The payment later will be much greater than the one now. We can face God's judgment now through repentance and receive forgiveness through Jesus; or face God's judgment later.

We are also responsible to make sure that others who may be "lost" may hear the Good News and thus avoid the Great Destruction at the end.

This word is also used in 18:14: "So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost." It is clear that it is not God's will that any one should be destroyed in gehenna, which leads us to the next saying.

d. SPARROWS & HAIR (10:29-31)

The one we should fear is also one who cares for cheap birds (and birds that go cheep <g>) and every hair on our heads. However, God's care doesn't keep birds (or hair) from falling and perhaps dying. God's care for disciples doesn't keep them from persecution or even death -- but God knows what we are going through.

We should not be afraid because we are more important to God than sparrows. While it is a simple statement, it may be difficult to believe in the midst of persecution when God's help doesn't seem to be present. I have found many people who need to hear over and over again how important they are to God, and thus, also to us.


Earlier the disciples were told to proclaim the good news that the kingdom of heaven has come near (10:7). Here they are to express openly (homologeomai) Jesus Christ before other people.

It seems to me that there is an area between "expressing openly" and "denying" -- where most people are located -- they neither express openly nor deny. They believe in Christ, but don't share that faith.

What we do on earth affects what Jesus does for us in heaven. While it may not be the best motivation for witnessing, the fear of being denied by Jesus before his Father in heaven, is part of what Jesus declares. The only other times this word is used in Matthew (26:70 & 72) it is Peter who denies Jesus. However, acknowledging Jesus before others just so that we can get Jesus to acknowledge us before his Father in heaven isn't the most altruistic motivating force either.

3. PEACE OR SWORD (10:34-36)

"Peace" (eirene) is not a big word in Matthew. It occurs twice here and twice in 10:13 where the missionaries are to grant peace on the worthy house and take it back from the unworthy house. A form of the word is used in 5:9 where "peace-makers" are called blessed.

Matthew presents a contrast about "swords" in 26:47, 51, 52, 55. A crowd comes with swords and clubs to arrest Jesus. One of Jesus' followers draws a sword and cuts off the ear of the high priest's slave. Jesus tells him, "Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword."

This leads me to believe that it must be a different type of "sword" Jesus takes up in 10:34. It is not a weapon used to conquer or destroy others. Instead, Jesus dies for those with their swords of steal. I would suggest that the dividing sword of Jesus is a cross of wood. For an illustration, one might take a cross-shaped piece of wood and wave it around like a sword and then stand it up like a cross.

The family divisions were probably real situations faced by Matthew's church. He makes being ostracized by one's family a fulfillment of scriptures as he loosely quotes Micah 7:6 and as a result of being faithful to Jesus. As I stated in my notes on the parallel passage in Luke (12:51-53), this also happens in the 20th century. A woman in a church I served a few years ago, hadn't spoken with her mother in 18 years -- ever since "this good Catholic girl" married a Lutheran and joined the Lutheran church. I know of former LCMS clergy/seminarians who ended up on the "outs" with their families when they went with the seminex walk-out.


These are not verses that are usually used to try and attract people to Christianity. When should costly following be taught to believers?


The comment about families in vv. 35-36 probably led to this saying, found in a different context in Luke (14:26). It is actually a positive statement about families. Jesus claims priority over the most important things in our lives -- including our parents and our children. If following Jesus meant we had to give up eating slugs or worms, discipleship would be very easy. I'm not sure that testimonies that declare, "I gave up the worst things -- the most sinful things -- in my life, e.g., drugs, alcohol, sex, stealing, etc. to follow Jesus" mean much. Paul's personal testimony stresses the giving up of the very best things -- the most religious things -- in his life in order to follow Jesus (Phil. 3:2-11). Can we ask our worshipers about the good things in their life they have given up -- or, perhaps better, made less important in their lives -- to follow Christ?

Some family systems theory thinking may be appropriate to this section. One's identity can be so wrapped up in pleasing (or displeasing) the family that the person has no real self-identity -- or real faith. It could be that Jesus doesn't want people just going along with the crowd or one's parents to follow him, but committed individuals who are aware of the costs of following.

Later Jesus illustrates what this means when he redefines his family: "And pointing to his disciples, he said, 'Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother'" (12:49-50). Doing the will of God is more important than the most important things we have on earth. It has to become more important than doing the will of parents or doing the will of children. (Although doing God's will certain will mean honoring honorable parents and caring for children.)

Jesus also gives this promise: "And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life" (19:29).


This contains the first reference to "cross" in Matthew and it refers to believers' crosses rather than Jesus'. For Matthew's readers they not only looked back to the cross of Jesus, but also to the martyrdom of Christians that had already taken place. We need to encourage the looking back at the lives of the faithful as inspiration and encouragement for us to live faithful lives today.

"Worthy" (axios) is a word that occurs often in Mt 10 (vv. 10, 11, 13, 37, 38), but perhaps its use in 22:8 relates most closely to our text: "Then he said to his slaves, 'The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy.'" They were not worthy because other activities were more important than responding to the king's invitation.

Carter (Matthew and the Margins) after noting that crucifixion was not used on Roman citizens, but "for sociopolitical marginals such as 'rebellious' foreigners" (p. 243). Thus, "The cross was a means of dividing citizen from non-citizen, the socially acceptable from the rejected" (p 243). Then he concludes:

...Jesus' words are a call to choose a way of life of marginalization, to identify with the nobodies like slaves, and with those some understood to be cursed by God. It is to identify with those who resist the empire's control, who contest its version of reality, and who are vulnerable to its reprisals. It is to identify with a sign of the empire's violent and humiliating attempt to dispose of those who threatened or challenged its interests. To so identify is not to endorse the symbol but to reframe its violence. As the end of the gospel indicates, it is to identify with a sign that ironically indicates the empire's limits. The empire will do its worst in crucifying Jesus. But God raises Jesus from death, thwarting the empire's efforts. And Jesus will return to establish God's empire over all including Rome (24:27-31). To not respond positively to such a call is to not be a disciple (not worthy of me; see 10:37). [p. 244]

c. SAVING ONE'S LIFE (10:39)

I've already made comments about "life" (psyche) and "lose" (apollymi) earlier. In an age of consumerism -- where people want to find and gather in order to find their lives, this verse is quite appropriate. In the book Reaching Out without Dumbing Down, Marva Dawn makes this statement: "the boomers' search for a church to meet their needs instead of commitment to the Church through which to serve" [144]. We are a generation that consumes rather than contributes -- takes rather than gives.

Connected to our theology, apollymi can mean "to kill" or "die". The way to "find life" is to "die to one's self," but this is not self-deprecation, but dying for the sake of Jesus. It means confessing, "I can't do it." I've commented in other notes that this confession is at the heart of repentance, rather than "I can do better." "I can't do it myself," is a statement of dying to one's self, dying to one's powers and abilities. It opens one up to accept the promise that God can do it and has done it for us.

This could also mean that like with parents and children earlier, Jesus and the doing of God's will needs to have a higher priority than "self" (psyche). My own pleasures and comforts cannot be the top priority in my life.

Mark Allan Powell (Loving Jesus) has a chapter called "Sunday Morning." He relates this story:

I remember talking to [a] Christian rock fan down in Austin, Texas. He was a Jesus freak, just like I used to be and still want to be, and I envied him. He was just living in the joy of the Lord, reading his Bible every day and praying to Jesus and speaking in tongues and playing Christian rock on his stereo. When I asked him about church, he didn't write it off, but he did say that he hadn't been able to find a congregation where he felt like he fit in. "the church where I'm a member," he said, 'it's like something out of an old black-and-white TV show. You know, Ozzie and Harriet or Leave It To Beaver. Everybody dresses up in suits, and they play this music that doesn't sound like anything on the radio and the preacher talks about things that have nothing to do with my life, and, I don't know, it's just … boring! So, he said, he didn't go. I asked him about finding a different church, but he didn't know about denominations and didn't really want to get into all the different doctrines and stuff, so he just didn't go anywhere. "Maybe when I'm older, I'll get more out of it," he said. "Or maybe the church will, you know, lighten up or something."

Well, this time, I did give advice. I don't know if it was good advice or not, but I thought about it overnight and then got back to him:

"Do you love Jesus?" I asked.

"Yes, I do. I love him with all my heart."

"Would you die for him?"

"Yes, I would."

"You would die for him, but you won't be bored for him?"

And so I said, this is what I think the Lord wants you to do: I think that Jesus wants you to get out of bed every Sunday morning and go to the Ozzie and Harriet church and just sit there for one hour, being bored. Do it for him. Call it "bearing your cross" if you like. Just do it. [pp. 129-130]

Part of the reason Powell said this was because as a young pastor he visited a number of "inactive members" of a church he served. He sums up these visits: "…everyone was saying in some way, shape, or form, 'I quit coming to church because I wasn't getting out of it what I thought I should get out of it'" [p. 130].

A little later he asks, "Where do we get the idea that what happens in church is about us? It is the Lord's day. We go to worship the Lord" [p. 131].

Can something as simple as being bored in church be a way we take up the cross and follow him?


A Jewish Story called "Bad Business" from A Treasury of Jewish Folklore: Stories, Traditions, Legends, Humor, Wisdom and Folk Songs of the Jewish People, Edited by Nathan Ausubel, Copyright, 1948, Crown Publishers, Inc., New York

The Evil Spirit once came dejected before God and wailed, "Almighty God -- I want you to know that I am bored -- bored to tears! I go around doing nothing all day long. There isn't a stitch of work for me to do!"

"I can't understand you," replied God. There's plenty of work to be done only you've got to have more initiative. Why don't you try to lead people into sin? That's your job!"

"Lead people into sin!" muttered the Evil Spirit contemptuously. "Why Lord, even before I can get a chance to say a blessed word to anyone he has already gone and sinned!"

In a similar way, we don't need Jesus to cast a sword on earth -- we do that pretty well without his help. We don't need Jesus to turn family members against other family members -- we do that pretty well without his help. We need Jesus to show us how not to draw our "swords" of anger and revenge, of death and destruction. We need Jesus to show us how to take up our crosses in love and forgiveness for our enemies -- even when they are our family members -- and even when they may be our own selves.

Not only do we need to hear about Jesus' help, but we need to shout the message to a world estranged from itself and from its God.

Brian Stoffregen
Faith Lutheran Church, 2215 S 8th Ave., Yuma, AZ 85364