Matthew 10:7—15

It is probably strange to hear this morning’s gospel text in light of the current state of our world. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’[1] Scenes of evangelism may be a challenge for us all right now. Rather than being sent out into the world, we find ourselves compelled to remain at home and distance ourselves from those we might otherwise wish to serve, up close and in person. We are not presently going, there are no homes into which we might safely venture, no opportunities for face to face discussion, study, or prayer.

Yet we still hear Jesus’s call, even in the midst of a crisis that would see us shrink back and retreat from the world to which we have been called to bring God’s love. Go.

Thankfully various technologies—especially the internet—have afforded us valuable ways to overcome the sharpness of our physical separation from one another. Although I count myself among the world’s stubborn luddites, I cannot imagine rising to meet the present moment without the advantages of our own community’s presence on social media and other web interfaces. Much like those Christians of the fifteenth century, who experienced for the first time a new kind of evangelistic media (the printing press), we have heretofore unexplored worlds of potential set before us.

Communities of faith can reach out in ways they never have before, even during the disorder of a global pandemic. Yet, as with all forms of evangelization, it comes with a dangerous temptation. A digital presence permits communication across vast distances, yes. But it also permits for infinite worlds of miscommunication, misunderstanding, and downright cruelty. If you have ever spent any time on social media, you probably know what I’m talking about. “Don’t read the comments.”

Internet comment boards are replete with ad hominem attacks, expressions of condemnation, and even threats of death. While it is not my place to reflect on the ways our secular siblings use their voices online (or in any kind of argument, for that matter, whether digital or face to face), I often find myself surprised by the level of vitriol, condemnation, and judgement I have encountered from professing Christians on the internet. We must, siblings in Christ, resist this temptation if we are to speak life into death. Christian tradition has a name for this kind of defamatory or slanderous language: calumny.

Of course, the church—in all its poverty and weakness—has fallen prey to the temptation to speak in this way before. Long before internet comment boxes there were those signs, so etched into my memory: “God hates [you fill in the blank]. Repent or burn in hell.” Whether in a digital space or met in the flesh, our call as members of Christ is to show the world the face of God as revealed in the self-giving, forbearing love of Jesus. We received without payment. We must give without payment.[2]

In this time of digital evangelism, may we remind ourselves of that purpose for which we have been sent. May we—communities of faith close at home and far away—protect our collective energies from the wrathful temptation of calumny. As Hosea confesses, he will not come in wrath.

Neither then, Lord, shall we.


[1] Matthew 10:7

[2] Matthew 10:8b

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