Fear and Trust: the rooftops

26 “Therefore do not be afraid of them. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. 27 What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops

These verses have their parallel in Luke 12:2 and, some would say, in Mark 4:22. I would disagree with the Markan parallel. While the words are similar, the topic in Mark is not missionary endeavors, but rather why Jesus teaches in parable and leave some listeners “in the dark,” so to speak. Perhaps one might offer that the Markan context is that what must remain secret for a time will ultimately be revealed. But in Matthew’s use (and Luke’s) there is no nuance. The disciples are to proclaim the good news so that all can hear. In the setting of a Palestinian village, the housetop (rooftop) is a very visible platform from which to proclaim the Good News to the people in the streets nearby.

The disciples have the duty to proclaim the message opening and not to let that public proclamation be the first casualty of fear. “Good news is not meant to be kept under wraps, however little some people may wish to hear it. Even though for the time being Jesus’ teaching to his disciples has to be “in darkness”…in the coming time of witness before governors and kings (vv. 17–18) and of world-wide proclamation of the euangelion (24:14) it must no longer be hidden.” (France, 402)

28 And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.

The possibility of martyrdom in the cause of Jesus, already raised in v. 21, is now addressed head-on. The body/soul contrast, when used in relation to execution, presupposes that there is a true life which goes beyond mere physical existence, so that the real “self” is untouched by the death of the body alone. And that is all that human opponents can touch. But both body and “soul” are subject to God’s power, and therefore also to his judgment. Under that judgment, it is not only the body but the true life of the person which is liable to destruction in hell.

“Hell” (Gehenna) will be referred to in 5:29–30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33 is the place of final destruction of the wicked; its use in this sense is well-attested in Jewish apocalyptic literature. It is not the same as Hades, the place of the dead, which is not usually understood as a place of punishment or destruction but rather of shadowy existence. The name Gehenna derives from the Valley of Hinnom (Hebrew gê hinnōm) outside Jerusalem which had once been the site of human sacrifice by fire to Molech (2 Kgs 23:10; Jer 7:31). There is a later tradition that the city’s rubbish was dumped and burned in this valley, which if true would provide a vivid image of “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

Sources

  • R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publication Co., 2007) 401-406
  • Scripture – New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970
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