Peaceful Jesus with a Sword?
What did Jesus mean when he said that he did not come to bring peace, but a sword?
This is a great example of one of those verses we run across in Scripture from time to time. It sounds pretty harsh…because it is harsh.
The exact verse reads, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword.” (Mt 10:34)
The verse has been used and misused for centuries. At certain times, Christians used it to justify their acts of war against others, including other Christians. In other settings, it was used to claim that Christ was not the Messiah, but a political/military ruler who sought land, power and blood…now that one is so stupid it hurts to even repeat jokingly.
You see, this verse makes more sense when you read the verse(s) immediately preceding and following it. Read the following section: Matthew 10:26-42.
Notice that the entire section outlines God’s relationship to us, as Father to child. It reminds us of His great and unending love for each of us and our worth in His eyes. It also encourages us to have courage when we are being persecuted in His name (as part of His family). Only after that reminder of our family relationship to God does it talk about peace and swords and dividing families.
You see, what Jesus is saying, very basically, is that our relationship to God is the only thing more important and foundational than our relationships within our families. That fact makes some people uncomfortable, until we realize that God gave us and bore us into our families. God is not trying to “rip us apart” from our parents or siblings…on the contrary, He wants to use those of us in the family who follow Him and are open to listening to Him, to evangelize the other members of the family.
When He says “He came to bring the sword” it means that living like Christ will sever certain ties or cut between certain people…living a life after Jesus’ own heart will cause us to live more for His happiness, rather than living a life that is more concerned with “making our family comfortable” or “keeping the peace”.
There are several families who proclaim to love God and who go to Church, but the minute that someone (a teen for instance) in the family shows “more interest” in their faith, (like after a retreat, Confirmation, LIFE Nights or prayer group) people start to get uncomfortable. Sometimes that discomfort is seen in a lack of support, sometimes it is seen in an unwillingness to go deeper…sometimes the person who is “on fire” for God can even be made fun of or shunned – even within a family.
Jesus is reassuring you (the reader) that it is not always going to be easy to follow Him and that, at times, choosing to follow Him completely is going to put certain family members or close relationships in an awkward position. He tells us this in the Gospel to be upfront and truthful with us, that it is not always easy.
He is not declaring an “act of war” or saying we need to go start problems, but reminding us that God has to be the primary relationship and our family relationships will be stronger and happier (in the long run) if we keep Christ primary. Trust in His plan for you and your family, and in His ability to change other people’s hearts, in part, through your faithful example of putting God first in all things.
In time…that “sword” will bring peace, we just have to be prayerful and patient.
God can work miracles in any family no matter how screwed up it may seem…we need to give Him the space, the chance and the time. Pray hard.
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