I’m sure you know the feeling. You’re reading along in the Bible, and suddenly, it’s as if you see something highlighted in yellow. Yet in the case I’m thinking of, the highlight is more like a muted murky orange, because the verse or the wording is not only strange, but confusing and even seemingly unlike Christ.

I ran across a verse like that in Matthew 10. Jesus sends out the twelve Disciples with instructions, including this:

“Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave” (Matthew 10:11 NIV)

What? Worthy person? Were the Disciples supposed to know already who was worthy for salvation? But we are never worthy for salvation. We come to Christ not on our own merits but because we actually are unworthy. So what does Jesus mean?

One commentator explains this passage saying “worthy” refers to:
an hospitable man; one that was very liberal; who was willing and ready to entertain strangers; for such a man they would want, having neither money nor food: and so the same word, in the Hebrew language, signifies “to be worthy”, and “to give alms”, because an eleemosynary man, or a man given to alms, was reckoned by the Jews a very worthy man: they thought giving of alms to be a matter of merit. Christ here speaks in the language of the masters of Israel; (Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible).

I found out that the same word for “worthy” in the Hebrew language refers to “to give alms.” Jews thought giving of alms “to be a matter of merit.”
Here’s a fascinating bit of culture from Jesus’ world:
“When a stranger arrives in a village or an encampment, the neighbours, one after another, must invite him to eat with them. There is a strict etiquette about it, involving much ostentation and hypocrisy; and a failure in the due observance of this system of hospitality is violently resented, and often leads to alienations and feuds among neighbours. It also consumes much time, causes unusual distraction of mind, leads to levity, and every way counteracts the success of a spiritual mission” (Thomson, ‘Land and the Book,’ p. 347).

So by the disciples choosing quickly a “worthy” man, (one who is hospitable,) the time and energy usually expended in figuring out who would host a visitor would be eliminated! And by staying in one house for the duration of the visit, the process wouldn’t have to be repeated again and again. Then the disciples could fulfill more quickly the assignment Jesus had given them: to speak of Him.

I love how Jesus is so specific and teaches His disciples how to be efficient. I wonder how hard it was for them to follow Jesus’ instructions because it would mean changing one of their cultural ideas. Did they fear the townspeople would be upset that their usual “cultural procedures” weren’t followed? Jesus’ instructions might even seem unusual or unwise because they would risk the people’s wrath and thus possibly create hardened hearts. But Jesus knew the best way.

Maybe you and I might someday be challenged to go against the cultural habits of someone when we are sharing the Gospel or trying to represent the Lord. It’s then that we’ll need to do what God tells us to do, not what the “culture” says.

The other lesson I learned from studying the background of this passage is that there usually is an explanation for something I don’t understand. There are many verses in the Bible that cause me to scratch my head. I can’t figure it out. It seems contradictory and I may even become convinced it’s impossible to understand. 

But if I don’t give up and I follow through with some study, I often do find the answers. God wants me–and you–to know what He wanted to communicate. 

Let’s not give up, even when the wording is strange!