Just before the climax of a great many books and movies and plays, there is a speech that changes everything.
The speech comes at halftime at the big game or on the eve of the final battle or as the ragtag bunch of misfits are about to descend into the cave or the dungeon or the sewer and face the monster. Morale is low, our protagonists are figuratively and sometimes literally on their knees. And the speech – given by the coach, the queen, the least socially awkward of the misfits – is what allows them to get up and continue.
Jesus gives a speech like that today. There are twelve people in Jesus’ gang of misfits, twelve people plus Jesus himself to make a Messiah’s Dozen. Let’s imagine that you and I are each one of the twelve. Jesus gathers us in the locker room – if you’re following along at home, we’re at the very beginning of Chapter Ten in Matthew’s version of this story – and he stands up on one of the benches, he takes a breath, and he proceeds to give us a speech so alarming and strange and beautiful that it would get a lesser coach fired, fired even before he stepped down back onto the locker room floor.
The speech begins this way, with two instructions:
First, Jesus says, you have authority. You have authority to cast out demons and to heal everything and everyone and to raise the dead.
Maybe we look at each in confusion. Do we have that authority? These kind of seem like varsity level miracles. But before anyone can put their hand up to ask a clarifying question, Jesus keeps on going.
Second, do not get ready. Don’t take money, don’t take a change of clothes, leave your smart phones at home.
Now, if any of you were Boy or Girl Scouts you will know that even though the speech has barely begun, Baden Powell is audibly grinding his teeth right now. Do not be prepared, Jesus says. Not even a little bit.
Unprepared, Jesus says, you are to go. You are to leave this building, go outside, go into the community, and there you are to proclaim the good news. You are to say:
The kingdom of heaven
has come near.
Now, if folks welcome you, let your peace be upon them. But if they don’t welcome you…
And maybe some of us start rubbing our hands together now, because if Jesus has given us the authority to heal and cast out demons and raise the dead, then Jesus must also be giving us the power to destroy anyone who crosses us. We’re waiting for him to give us laser vision and Spiderman webs enough strength to lift someone in the air and huck them into next week. We are going to mop the floor with these suckers.
If folks don’t welcome you, Jesus says, then clean off your shoes. Shake the dust off of them. And then keep on going. There will be judgment. But that is God’s work. Not yours.
And then Jesus keeps on going:
You are going to be handed over, Jesus says – handed over meaning being put into the back of the truck or the train or into the room without windows, the bolt in the door sliding hard into place behind you. Handed over meaning that control over your life belongs to someone else. You will be beaten and dragged before the authorities.
And then Jesus repeats the instruction:
Do not get ready. Do not be prepared. You might want to prepare a defence, but don’t.
You don’t need to. The Spirit of your Father will speak through you.
Do not be afraid, Jesus says.
But then he adds something that, maybe, sounds less than reassuring.
Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, nothing is secret that will not be known.
Again we look at each other: Nothing? Including that time that I…
Jesus, Is this good news?
And Jesus says: Do not be afraid.
You might think I have come to bring peace. I haven’t. I have come to bring brass knuckles, a gun, a sword. I have come to set son against father, daughter against mother, daughter-in-law against mother-in-law. If there is a relationship in which one person has power over another, I am going to turn that into a fight.
This is the part of the speech that changes everything in which Jesus’ voice is getting louder, his gestures more animated, the spit leaving his holy lips with greater velocity.
Take up your cross.
Take it up. Whoever welcomes you welcomes me and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward. Whoever welcomes a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward.
And then, after all of that, here comes the climax of the speech. Jesus says this part quietly.
Whoever gives a cup of cold water to one of these little ones – they will never lose their reward.
These are the orders. This is the end of the speech.
This speech is alarming and strange and beautiful. It is so, so confusing. And here at the end, it is so, so simple.
Could it possibly be that simple?
Could it be that the test for whether or not you and I are following the Gospel is really as simple as the question: Did we give a cup of cold water to the little ones? Did we give a cup of cold water to the ones who thirst?
Jesus steps down off the bench and walks out of the room. He leaves us there with the echo of his words. Jesus has given the speech that changes everything. And now. Now you and I have to decide if we will do as he has told us.