The Sword and the Word


Photo by James Pond on Unsplash

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 36; 147:12-20, Jeremiah 38:1-13, 1 Corinthians 14:26-40, Matthew 10:34-42

Some Biblical passages are challenging to understand. Not because of difficult language, but because of difficult ideas. And which ideas seem difficult vary from person to person. For me, today’s passage from Matthew has always been tough:

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;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.

How do we reconcile the blessed peacemakers of the Beatitudes from Matthew 5 with the sword and household strife in Matthew 10?

Is it a literal sword? That depends on who you ask. This passage has been used to justify taking up arms. But if we look at the physical use of swords by Christ and his disciples in the gospels, including the time he tells them to sell their cloaks to buy swords, he never encourages using them and chastises the disciple who strikes with one to defend him.

This divisive sword, this render of home and family, seems more akin to the metaphorical eyes we are to pluck out to avoid sin. But what does it represent?

I believe that, under the right circumstances, love and forgiveness can be perceived as a threat and, yes, even a weapon. Not everyone is willing to get on board with the radical call to sacrifice – both material and spiritual – that is part of discipleship. Not everyone wants to forgive. Maybe they simply don’t agree with the whole philosophy behind it. Maybe they don’t like having a mirror held up to their lives. Maybe they’ve been so abused by twisted religion that they can no longer associate Christ with anything good.  Whatever the reason, standing firm in our beliefs has the potential to alienate even the closest family members – to sever bonds, however regretfully, like a sword. And like any true swordsman, once we’ve unsheathed it, we must be prepared to follow through.

And there’s the Christian paradox. Christ asks us to wield a metaphorical sword which creates real-world enemies … even as he commands us to love those enemies and do good to those who persecute us. We don’t seek to create strife, but it will happen. And we are to respond to it with a love and humility that seemingly gives our foes all the advantages. For if we abandon love, we have surrendered everything.

Christ’s teachings divided his people against themselves and against him, and he forgave while he looked down on his foes from the cross. Surely we can make peace across a dinner table.

Comfort: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.

Challenge: Just because someone rejects you doesn’t mean you must reject them.

Prayer: Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger,
you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation! If my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will take me up. (Psalm 27:9-10)

Discussion: Have you ever been at odds with friends or family over your faith?

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