I’m mildly obsessed with Matthew 10:36. I have a cross stitch of it on my office wall. I make it a core part of my instruction about church administration. I ponder it to the point that it serves as a life scripture for me. “And one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.” (Matthew 10:36 NRSV) I love it. Being the ignorant church mouse that I am, my love for this scriptural nugget doesn’t come from Bible Study, time in worship, a particular sermon, seminary, or anything remotely connected to church. Naturally, I learned about it from a French-Canadian mystery book series about murder.

The Canadian author, Louise Penny, writes series of crime fiction book set in Quebec and starring Armand Gamache, a bookish, kind, and strong police inspector. In each book, Penny frames the narrative around another piece of literature or poem and often puts quotes from these in the mouth of Inspector Gamache. Matthew 10:36 was one of those, from a story centering on police corruption. Armand is teaching at the police academy and, on day one, writes, “Matthew 10:36” on the board without explanation and with only the scriptural reference, not the text of the passage. He uses this as a challenge to see what students would bother looking it up and ask him about it. Reflecting on the piece of scripture gives Gamache and the reader a way to process what it means, when even our dearest friends let us down or sell us out, in his case, with deadly results.

To Penny’s credit, she does seem to grasp with Jesus and Matthew want us to learn from the text. Matthew 10:36 sits within a long set of warning and instructions known as the Missionary Discourse. Matthew’s Gospel frames Christ’s teaching around five different discourses, and here, we get Jesus describing the life that comes with disciple making. He does not paint a pretty picture. The would-be missionaries will encounter rejection, fear of death, rejection, hatred, and rejection. By verse 34, the discord even comes home.

‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; (Matthew 10:34-35 NRSV)

And, thus, even your most secure relationships could be at risk because of trying to move the Gospel forward.

This feels bleak, but for Christ, it matches his lived experience. One of the men listening to this discourse, Judas Iscariot, goes onto to betray Jesus to the Temple hierarchy. Jesus’s foes do try to kill him. One of those foes had dinner with him the night before. It’s more than Judas, though. The crowd turns on him. The Temple takes the lead on killing him. Even the other Disciples scatter. Jesus came for all of these folks, and in a real way, each were members of God’s family. His mission put him in a position to be let down by them all.

We think that Matthew’s congregation knew similar disappointments. At their stage in Christian history, the Romans had not risen to the role of lead persecutors. In the earliest days, the local synagogue often played that part. We can glean from Matthew’s approach to the Gospel that his congregation felt pressure from local Jewish groups. We think of Christianity and Judaism as separate religions, but at that time, things hadn’t crystalized to that degree. A lot of Matthew’s community would have grown up in the Synagogue and shared deep social connections with them. For them to turn into the one dealing abuse must have felt like a family betrayal. One can easily imagine how that felt like one’s foes being of one’s own household.

It's important not to learn the wrong message from a family full of potential foes. Jesus issues this warning, while sending people out to expand the family of God. Yes, more family members mean more potential foes, but Christ calls on us to do it anyways. He surrounded himself with his 12 best friends, even Judas, knowing full well how that could go. Matthew frames his Gospel to remind his folks not to bunker down in the face of betrayal but to continue to go and make more disciples. People, even people closest to us, can act in extremely disappointing ways. We can take this has an opportunity to turtle up and recede into our shells, but Jesus and Matthew commend the exact opposite course of action. Christian aren’t fall to live in isolated castles with the draw bridges rolled up. Living in community comes with risks. It’s also exactly where God wants us to be to find the fullness of what God has to offer.