A grassroots kingdom (Matthew 10:9-15)

Working with the people who want the best for their community — that’s how Jesus’ kingdom vision works.

Open Matthew 10:9-15.

How did Jesus expect to run a kingdom? They’re expensive! Government in Australia costs us $450 billion dollars a year — $50 for every man, woman, and child, every day.

It’s always been like that. When Israel first asked for a king, Samuel warned them how taxing human rulers would be:

1 Samuel 8:11–17 (ESV)
11 These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons …  13 He will take your daughters … 14 He will take15 He will take16 He will take17 He will take … and you shall be his slaves.

David’s son Solomon charged taxes and required his citizens to work to build the temple in Jerusalem. He built stables and garrisons and public works, and a harem and wealth for himself. After 7 years of temple construction, he required the work teams to build him a palace — for the next 13 years! So heavy was Solomon’s yoke that it split the kingdom when he died (1 Kings 12:4, 11).

If Jesus was restoring the kingdom, how could he fund it? He’s just appointed his first government officials — twelve kingdom emissaries — but how could he fund them? You’re not going to believe what he did: he sent them out with no money, to fend for themselves!

Put yourself in their shoes:

Matthew 10:8b-10 (my translation)
You received it as a gift; give it as a gift. 9 Procure no money or coins for your wallets, 10 no backpack for the road, no spare shirt or shoes or walking stick, for the worker is worthy of his keep.

Did you get that? Not only did Jesus refuse to pay them, he refused to let them collect money from family and friends for their journey. He sent them without money, and without spare clothes. He instructed them to rely on local hospitality.

Maybe that’s not such a stretch for the twelve: they’ve already been doing that as they journeyed with Jesus. Now they have to do it on their own.

Mt 10 11 Whatever city or village you enter, inquire who would be a worthy host, and stay with them until you leave. 12 As you enter the household, give it your welcome. 13 If the household proves worthy, let your peace rest on it; if it’s not worthy, let your peace rebound to you.

The word worthy (axios) turns up four times in verses 10-13. Jesus expects that in most towns they will find a hospitable person, someone with a reputation for caring for the community. This person already has some kingdom values. The king instructs his agents to team up with them.

On one level, this is countercultural for Evangelicals who tend to think that anyone who isn’t in church is unsaved, on the outer, not a kingdom person. Making such judgements is counterproductive: it serves only to isolate us from those who are likely to be the most responsive to our king. On another level, when someone moves to a new town to plant a church, they probably do seek out “worthy” people who care for their community as Jesus does.

Trouble is, the people who have a reputation for hospitality don’t always prove to be so altruistic when you get to know them. By the time you realize this, your name (and therefore the name of the king you represent) is sullied. No worries, Jesus said. You honoured them with the king’s greeting when you arrived, but if they prove not to be worthy of it, the greeting won’t stick: like seed falling on concrete, it will bounce back to you. You don’t need to correct your mistake or salvage the king’s honour. His honour stands on its own merits. You don’t need to defend a lion.

But what about a town that rejects you? You’re a representative of King Jesus, so aren’t they rejecting him? There were moments when Jesus’ disciples wanted to appeal to the “higher” authority, calling down fire from heaven to nuke the people who rejected their king (Luke 9:54). A Roman solider might have been tempted to set fire to an inhospitable town too.

Mt 10 14 When someone doesn’t welcome you or hear your message, as you leave that household or city, take nothing — not even the dust on your feet. 15 Truth is, the land of Sodom and Gomorrah will fare better than that city on judgement day.

The disciples have no business forcing people to submit to God’s kingship. In the kingdom of God, the king alone brings justice.

It’s been like that since the very beginning. On his way to investigate the outcries over the injustice of Sodom and Gomorrah, the heavenly sovereign popped in on his earthly representative, Abraham. As evil as these towns were, Abraham didn’t condemn them: he interceded for them. His calling was not to condemn what was wrong, but to model what was right — to “keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice.” He left vengeance to God (Genesis 18:19-21). Vengeance is never our domain: God knows how to sort things out (Romans 12:19; Hebrews 10:30).

As Jesus sends out the twelve to announce and enact the kingdom of heaven, we begin to understand what kind of kingdom he envisions. It’s a grassroots kingdom, supported by the local community, not taxes. It consists of communities that hear the king’s message and implement his purposes, so the king’s will is done on earth as in heaven.

What a brilliant strategy! O God, open our eyes to see the people around us who already have your heart and want the best for their community. We need to find them, greet them, and partner with them, as we proclaim and enact his compassionate kingship.


What others are saying

Myron S. Augsburger and Lloyd J. Ogilvie, Matthew, Preacher’s Commentary Series (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1982), 18:

Having no purse or money is a clear symbol of no benefit from their ministry. The absence of an extra coat or sandals illustrated their direct relationship to the people they were serving. There are implications here for modern mission. If we mean to serve others, we must serve others as they need to be served and not as we predetermine to serve them, for the latter is not service but dominance.

Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009), 317–318:

Jesus hence forbids the normal basic apparatus for travel. Jesus’ prohibition of the “bag” (10:10; Mk 6:8) prohibits begging (see Deissmann 1978: 108–9), the survival method of the otherwise equally simple Cynics … For the Gospel writers’ audiences, these prohibitions would distinguish the disciples from other kinds of wandering preachers (probably similar to Cynics in the Greek world) “whose questionable reputation they did not want to share.”

Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-15 (London: SPCK, 2004), 114:

These instructions were very specific, for a particular situation. But Matthew has recorded them in detail, presumably because he thinks they remain relevant to the church even after Jesus’ death and resurrection. How might they apply to the mission of your church, today?

[previous: How the Shepherd gathers his sheep]

[next: Sheep among wolves]

Author: Allen Browne

Seeking to understand Jesus in the terms he chose to describe himself: son of man (his identity), and kingdom of God (his mission). Riverview Church, Perth, Western Australia

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