Peace or the Sword?
Peace or the Sword?
Scripture: Matthew 10: 24-39
Let’s just get it out of the way and say that we don’t like this passage or at the very least that it makes us very uncomfortable. The dislike and discomfort come from the passage which reads, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt 10:34). The speaker of these words, Jesus.
These words don’t sit well with us; they seem out of character, and we struggle with what we are supposed to do with them.
Jesus is supposed to be the Prince of Peace. We sing and talk about that at Christmas, why is Jesus saying the opposite in this passage from Matthew. Why does he tell us that families will turn on one another, that father’s and son, mother’s and daughters will find themselves in conflict. Why does Jesus pit us against our own families?
Clearly, there is a lot to untangle in this passage. Should we take the words of Jesus at face value, a literal reading or is Jesus speaking to the general conflict that might occur to those who follow him? Was this something that the community that Matthew was writing to was experiencing? Is this passage meant to be pastoral towards a community that was facing just this very type of division? In short, what do we do with it?
Before we struggle with what the passage is telling us, let’s look at whether what we have in front of us is as accurate as it could be. Looking at the grammatical structure of the passage there are some interesting things occurring. The passage has us considering what Jesus’ purposes are. Of note is the issue of peace and the sword, and how or who is bringing what. There is enough ambiguity within the passage to ask the question, who has the sword?
Is it Jesus who has the sword? Or is Jesus referring to the fact that his way of living and being in the world causes others to bring the sword?
If you read all of chapter 10, the part deals with the disciples being sent out, you can see that there is a clear division of those who accept the word or message of Jesus and those who do not. This shouldn’t be news to us, but thinking it through and looking at the larger setting or context of Matthew’s gospel helps put this potentially troubling into perspective.
We know there are those who might disagree with the message of Christ. I’m not speaking of those who would say God doesn’t exist, or Christ wasn’t divine, what we would call an atheist. Rather, I’m speaking of those who deny or rebel against the life giving message of Christ. There are plenty of atheist’s who don’t believe in God but whose life-style and ethics match those of Christ. There are also many Christians whose living and ethics I think Christ might find troubling.
This passage reminds us that these differences exist. That these disagreements will happen and they might be violent or difficult in nature. As Christians in North America, most of our struggles come against those who might hold a different view of the faith, however by and large we live and practice our faith in safety.
Chelsey Harmon shares some experiences while she was attending seminary, she writes, “While attending two different Seminaries I sat alongside students from all over the world; some of them were first generation Christians who knew firsthand what Jesus describes in this passage. One classmate from India shared about not being able to go home to see his family because they had turned their backs on him. Even worse, he knew a young man who had been beaten to death because he became a Christ-follower. These perils are real for many of our brothers and sisters around the world.
“It can also be real for us in the North American church, albeit in a different way. It is difficult to deny that the modern Western church is in a season of division and upheaval with people on all sides claiming that they are “standing with Christ.” According to Christ, the upheaval is inevitable because his very existence disrupts all of the patterns and relationships in our lives. So, the question becomes, have we mistaken the disruption we are experiencing as a call to arms (the sword) instead of as a call to repentance for turning to the sword instead of the way of compassion?” (Chelsey Harmon – https://cepreaching.org/commentary/2023-06-19/matthew-1024-39-3/)
The question that Harmon asks at the end there is an important one. When we experience division or conflict, do we get our back up and seek to defend ourselves and our own? Do we react with what might be described as a counter-attack? Or do we seek to find what is causing the root of the harm, what is triggering the aggression in the other and act with grace and compassion? It’s an important distinction and one which defines how we live as followers of Christ. The one who didn’t bring the sword, but the one who by the way he lived in wanting equity for all, caused others to act out with violence.
“We start with the clear reminder that our Master is hated by some in this world because he disrupts their influence and privilege. If it’s true for Jesus, it will be true for those who live like him. If people try to discredit Jesus by maligning him as demonic (calling him Beelzebul), trying to spin it so that truth sounds like falsehood and lies are thought to be true, then we know the ‘game’ the world will try to subject us to.” (Chelsey Harmon – https://cepreaching.org/commentary/2023-06-19/matthew-1024-39-3/)
We know that not everyone is going to celebrate Christ’s presence or his message. Not everyone is going to make Jesus the central point of their life. That some will take exception, that they will act with violence. Society has many divisions, from sports rivalries, to politics, economics, social, racial, ethnic, and gender (Cleophus LaRue – https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-12/commentary-on-matthew-1024-39-5). With such division comes conflict. Some of it, like sports rivalries, are generally good natured. Politics, economics, social, racial, ethnic, and gender, we have witnessed a great deal of violence and polarizing activities over the past few years.
What does this passage require of us?
I believe it is a call to prayer.
That God is with us when things are difficult and challenging.
That God is with us when we don’t know what to do or how to act.
Prayer, in all things.
Prayer when we bump up against opposition about what living as a follower of Christ means.
Prayer, that we will always answer with grace and not the sword. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.
St. Andrew’s supports the gathering of community agencies, providing space for the Affordable Housing Committee. Rev. Ellis’ voice is key in advocating for improvements in awareness, empathy and action on key determinants such as housing, income and food security.
Donate to St. Andrew's
Thank you for visiting St. Andrew’s. It’s our prayer that this sermon was helpful to your walk of faith. We would ask you to prayerful consider donating to the mission of St. Andrew’s. You can make an online donation through our website.