First, Read the Instructions – Br. James Koester

Matthew 10: 16-23

We’ve all done it before. I know I have. We’ve been presented with something to assemble, and merrily gone about it, with no regard to the instructions included in the box. When we have finished, it either doesn’t work as it should, it looks nothing like the box top, or we have some pieces left over. That’s happened to me over and over. I can’t be bothered to read the instructions; I don’t understand them; or I miss a few crucial steps. Some of us, it seems are just not wired to follow instructions, or read the manual.

Since Wednesday we have been reading our way through this portion of Matthew’s gospel.[1] In a sense, it’s the instruction manual for discipleship.

We already know from the picture on the box what we have in our hands: Jesus …  gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.[2] That looks pretty cool, and kind of fun. And who wouldn’t want to be able to do that stuff? At first the instructions are simple enough. Step One: Be called. Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples.[3] Steps Two through Six are equally easy to follow. ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.[4]

But then things get confusing. Take no money, or luggage. Don’t book a hotel. If you can’t find someplace to stay, move to the next town. Whatever you do, don’t backtrack.[5]

And then the instructions get scary. I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.[6] This is not what the box top showed! It’s at this point I find myself furiously looking for the sales slip wanting to take the whole thing back. That’s when I read, no returns, no exchanges, no refunds.

Some days, being a follower of Jesus comes at great cost. Even the cost of our life. [They] will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me…. [7]And that’s when I want to toss the whole thing in, in exchange for the Sunday paper, a cappuccino, and brunch.

But we also know that the promise of God is not ease, but salvation. [The] one who endures to the end will be saved.[8]Somehow, we know we must lose our life in order to gain it, and that real freedom comes only when we freely return our lives to the One who created them. We see this in the life of Jesus. We see this in the lives of the saints. And we see this today, as hard as it is, in the instruction manual that goes along with discipleship.

Being a disciple of Jesus is not about being able to do cool things like casting out demons and raising the dead. Being a disciple of Jesus is about life found and won, because first it is lost and given.


[1] Matthew 10: 1 – 42

[2] Matthew 10: 1b

[3] Matthew 10: 1a

[4] Matthew 10: 5 – 8

[5] See Matthew 10: 9ff

[6] Matthew 10: 16

[7] Matthew 10: 17

[8] Matthew 10: 22b

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6 Comments

  1. John G. on June 27, 2023 at 10:08

    Lostness seems to me to characterize the 21st century world. I think it means traveling through life without meaningful connections. Recently, i discovered that I really belonged to a group drawn together by a common disease. I have come to believe that God is speaking to me and fellow members of this group and drawing us closer to him through our common problem. That old feeling of not belonging and being lost has dissipated and a new sense of joy and commitment is replacing it. “Being a disciple of Jesus is about life found and won, because first it is lost and given.” Thank you, Brother James!

  2. Philip Flaherty on June 27, 2022 at 16:47

    I was always puzzled by Matt:22’s parable about the poor guy invited to the wedding feast after the king’s preferred guests refused the invitation. He was expecting a free lunch but wasn’t dressed well enough so got bounced. This week I’ve been delving into Bonhoeffer’s ideas concept of “cheap grace” and “costly grace”. Now Matt:22 is beginning to make more sense especially with your metaphor of “some assembly required”, the disclaimer on the box that no one takes seriously. While we may, along with Luther reject the “salvation by works” idea, there’s still no free lunch. It’s all starting to come together. Thank you, Br. James.
    -Deacon Phil

  3. Bobbi on June 27, 2022 at 07:24

    Thank you, Br. James. Staying at the guesthouse this past weekend is helping me follow the steps on the Christian box top, even daring me to step into Step Seven.

  4. Chris M on June 26, 2022 at 14:25

    OK. So what does this “Salvation” look like? There are no instructions given for that!
    Pie in the sky when you die?
    Or, something real? The ‘kingdom’ of heaven in our present moment?
    Where is this to be found? I gave up everything, trusting this promise, and received more suffering, more pain, loss, loneliness … is this the promised ‘salvation’?

    • Jan on June 27, 2022 at 07:39

      Chris M- your comment is so full of pain and frustration. I don’t have wise words to offer you, but I will pray for you. I pray that you will feel Gods presence and peace and that you find understanding in your search.

  5. Gay Crouch on July 16, 2021 at 10:54

    Awesome metaphor. Thank you, Br. James.

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