“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!”
Matthew 10:24-25 (NRSV)
Master o’ the house / dum da dee da dum / fifty cents for looking in the mirror twice….
I think the song goes something like that.
This passage is in a larger flow where Jesus is ready to ramp up the mission, so he is sending out his disciples to heal and cast out demons and announce the kingdom has finally come. In response to the notoriety this will almost surely bring Jesus’ movement, Jesus foresees that persecution will increase and involve his followers at a level they’ve been somewhat shielded from. Jesus is preparing them for this in the hopes that they will remain steadfast even in the face of opposition.
This short bit is simply making the point that, if people oppose Jesus, they will most certainly oppose his followers. If Jesus, with his demonstrable power, authority, and following, will be maligned and persecuted, people won’t think twice about doing the same thing to ol’ Simon the Cananaean. Do you remember Simon the Cananaean? Exactly. (HINT)
One interesting bit of the analogy is Jesus conjuring up the image of people calling him Beelzebul.
Beelzebul was a god of divination in Ekron. He is mentioned in 2 Kings 1 as the deity that a sick Ahaziah (king of Israel) consults to see if he will recover. Elijah meets the king’s emissaries on the way and has strong opinions about this, saying (among other things), “Is there no god in Israel such that you must inquire of Baal-zebul?”
The idea, of course, is that there is a God in Israel, but rather than consult with the true God of Israel, the king is consulting with a pagan one of some other nation.
Jesus’ opponents are apparently ascribing Jesus’ work to the powers of false, pagan gods as opposed to the true God of Israel. This is an objection that will crop up more than once, and we’ll see it in more direct form in Matthew 12.
The irony of this is that it is Jesus who is a prophet of Israel’s God, and it is his opponents who have received their power from pagan sources – not ancient gods of Ekron, perhaps, but from Caesar and his Empire – the gods of their age.
This is how Matthew has drawn the lines of the conflict over and over again. On the one side are the forces who have all the inertia. They are the keepers of the Temple and the Law. They have official leadership positions. While some may criticize the Empire and appear to be defenders of Israel, the reality is that many of them were either placed in their position directly by the Empire or maintain their comfortable lives by not rocking the boat. While they externally appear to be faithful to the true God and be shepherds of His people, the reality is that they are shills for a pagan power. They enjoy their comfort and their position and that’s the way things are going to stay. Not all of Jesus’ opponents will fit this model, but Matthew draws a picture of a great many who do. They are the almost faceless, transhuman “opposition” to Jesus.
On the other hand is Jesus, a wandering prophet with dirty clothes living off the land who speaks out against the established authorities and traditions – not because authority and tradition are inherently bad, but because these authorities and these traditions have contributed to Israel’s oppression, not helped set her free. In fact, Jesus says that the more you follow after these people, the greater the risk of your own destruction when God brings them down. Instead, you should embrace the dangerous, painful road that he himself is walking, because it is these people whom God will exalt.
It is because of this that perhaps we can have compassion for those we read about in the Scriptures who wavered or never got on board with Jesus to begin with. If all you had to go on was appearances and the inertia of your day to day life, which group would seem more legitimate to you? Which group looks more like they’re being rewarded for their choices? Who looks like representatives of the true God and who looks like representatives of paganism?
But beneath the deceptive appearances is something more primal and powerful. The leaders of Israel have failed to bring about God’s promises, but this crazy, dirty, wandering prophet guy – he’s bringing the kingdom, and the illusions will not hold together when they come crashing into the power of the kingdom come.
- If the religious status quo as you know it needed to be critiqued, how would that happen? How would you recognize the right side? If a respected pastor was on one side and a homeless vagrant were on the other, would that influence your decision? What would have to happen to tip the scales the other way?
- Does the world treat you better than Jesus? Why is that? How much of that is due to differences in time and culture, and how much of that is due to what you represent?