Today’s Gospel passage brings us to the end of the second great discourse of Jesus in Saint Matthew’s Gospel. The first was the Sermon on the Mount where he called the crowds to a new way of being human, based on the divine values of love, generosity, and responsibility for each other. In this missionary sermon, He has been instructing His disciples how they should behave and what they should expect when they go out to proclaim that it is possible to renew the face of the earth. That mission of Jesus’ disciples is as difficult today as it was then.
Firstly, Jesus uses the word ‘prophet’. A prophet in our biblical tradition is not merely one who foretells the future. A prophet is one who proclaims what the world could be like – and who is not afraid to point out where a society is building its house on sand. All these teachings will be unwelcome to those who are doing very nicely, thank you, from the status quo. In any age, if the disciples of Jesus do not seek to play an uncomfortable challenging role if the Church becomes tasteless and without inspiration and hope, if the Church becomes too aligned to the dominant ideology of the powerful, then it loses its prophetic voice. The Gospel invitation is for the modern world to catch on to the divine dream. It is not for merely the Church to catch up with the modern world’s assumptions. A Church that does not look out of step with its society, a Church that lets its principles be excessively influenced by changing market values, needs to hear Jesus’ instruction to His disciples 2,000 years ago.
But this is not an invitation to develop bitter, critical hearts. We already have more than our fair share of moaners. Angry hearts cannot reflect a God who so loved the world that He sent His only Son. That was not how Jesus engaged with His contemporaries. A prophetic Church speaks of, and models what a grace-filled society could look like. A secularised society would be content if faith were reduced to the sphere of the private and the personal.