“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” If these words, spoken by Jesus, don’t get our attention, I don’t know what will.
We’re used to hearing from the “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” Jesus who taught us to love God, neighbor and self; who taught us to take care of the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, and those imprisoned. We like to think of Jesus as the Good Shepherd who leaves behind the ninety nine in order to find the one lost sheep; or as the Light of the World who shines blissfully down upon us.
But we don’t know what to think of the Jesus who says “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword;” who says he has come to set family members against each other. When it comes to this Jesus, we secretly wish he didn’t say these things, or try to convince ourselves that he’s only speaking metaphorically.
But what if Jesus said what he meant? What if we take these words at face value? How does it apply to those who claim to be followers of Jesus?
Well, if you didn’t notice already, our gospel lesson is loaded with lots of different images and sayings. There is no way we can tie all of this up in a pretty bow in 15 minutes or less. This is not McGuyver nor NCIS. So, instead of trying to explore everything that’s going on in our gospel lesson, I’d like to focus on two things:
The first is that Jesus tell us “Do not fear” three times. We need to understand what he means by this because, obviously, it’s important. The second is unpacking the meaning of “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Let’s get to it!
In our gospel reading Jesus tells us “Have no fear” of those who “malign” us. Religious and political leaders said bad things about Jesus, calling him demon-possessed,” so we should expect the same treatment. What I think he means by this is that if we do everything Jesus taught us to do, we need to be prepared to receive pushback, criticism and outright hatred.
This is further underscored in the second “do not fear:” “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” These are hard words for us to hear because Jesus is saying that following him might even cost us our lives. While most of us don’t want to think about things like that, there are people who have been martyred for standing up for what Jesus taught us is just and right and true.
Taking these two “do not fears” together, we are reminded that the good news Jesus proclaimed is sometimes dangerous and subversive. Not everyone is receptive to bringing good news to the poor, proclaiming release to the captives, recovering the sight of the blind, and letting the oppressed go free. [Lk 4:18]
Yet, this was Jesus job description in the gospel of Luke. It’s supposed to be our job description as his disciples. If we’re truly following Jesus, we can expect pushback, criticism and outright hatred along the way.
This is where being a Christian can get a bit complicated. We all want to be thought of as nice, decent, caring people, who love one another as Christ has loved us. But, love is more than a mushy, sentimental feeling. It’s more than feeling sorry for the poor and unfortunate.
Sometimes love calls us to do something about the injustices we see in our world, because they are in direct opposition to the values Jesus taught us. Sometimes love turns over a table or two in order to call attention to religious and political systems who seek to oppress and control others.
James 2:17 tells us that “Faith without works is dead.” I believe Jesus is telling us in our gospel lesson that we should not be afraid to show our faith through bold and prophetic action, no matter what others may think or say about it.
The Church of Jesus Christ, has been far too timid for far too long. It’s time for us to get over our fear of what others will think of us if we stand up for what we know is just and right and true.
This is most definitely the case when it comes to the issue of racism and white supremacy which is a kingdom justice issue our denomination needs to make one of its highest priorities in terms of time, attention, and resources, including our money.
I’m in the middle of reading a book that’s definitely not for the faint of heart. I was literally brought to tears in the first chapter, as I heard some truth telling I needed to hear about the denomination I love. The book in question is Lenny Duncan’s “Dear Church: A Love Letter From a Black Preacher To the Whitest Denomination in the U.S.”
Here’s what he said about our denomination’s need to confront the issue of racism head on: “We can enter this new phase of American theology willingly, or we can fight it every step of the way. Either way, I am convinced the call of the church in the 21st century is to be the vanguard of this new battleground. We must enter this fray with wild abandon. We cannot pause to see if the ground will be firm or make sure that our entire confessional theology falls in line with every partner we make along the way. People are dying, and our secular leaders are more than okay with it. They have assumed the role of empire and could not care less about who gets hurt along the way.”
The final place where Jesus says “Do not be afraid” begins with a pep talk: “You are of more value than many sparrows.” But it ends with a chilling warning “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 it goes downhill from there.
This does NOT mean that Jesus has come to sow discord in our families. It means that if we truly follow what Jesus taught us to do, some of our family members are not going to like it. It may put us at odds with the people we know and love the most. This is really hard for us to hear. But I know it to be true in my own extended family.
I’m sure many of you have had uncomfortable conversations or shouting matches with family and friends when we offer our opinion of what Jesus would really do. It doesn’t matter if it’s in the Bible. They are not having it, and they’re not going to hear it.
So, where does all of this leave us? It leaves us with a word of encouragement “Do not fear. Be brave. Do what Christ has taught us to do.” But it also reminds us that not every one will be receptive to the message we are proclaiming through our words and deeds.
I know that fighting systemic racism seems like an impossible task, especially in the midst of a global pandemic, but it is the work Christ has called us to do in the 21st Century. So, will we do what is safe and easy? Or will be we brave enough to answer the call? Do not fear, my friends, do not fear. We can do this, together! Amen.
Copyright ©2020 by David Eck