In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus says: “Do not think I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10: 34-39). In the gospel of Luke (12:51-53), this passage shifts a little to read: “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” These passages go on to describe other schisms even among immediate family members so whatever it is that Jesus is bringing definitely has some bite to it.
Quite honestly I am challenged to harmonize this image of Christ with that of the kindly shepherd whom we honor as “the prince of peace”. What kind of “Prince of Peace” brings division and discord rather than harmony and serenity? I’m not sure the image of peace-making as all light, fluffy, lovely and never demanding is really ‘peace’ however. That image is more like a spiritual and moral anesthesia.
I’m not sure the image of peace-making as all light, fluffy, lovely and never demanding is really ‘peace’. That image is more like a spiritual and moral anesthesia.
If we dig a little deeper, Jesus’ own sense of zealousness shines through in these passages. Jesus is talking about seeking peace that has serious costs for what we commit our lives to being and doing. It expands the idea of “peace” as being a consequence of actions taken toward justice that really do arouse disharmony for a time. This new idea of peace is a spirited noun that calls for strong-willed verbs of action.
Actively pursuing peace is to move into the realms of discomfort, extending, however best we can, the arms of reconciliation person-to-person in uncomfortable circumstances because God’s love is that wide and forgiving. Provoking peace might be what causes division because Jesus’ idea of peace is to carry God’s light where there is darkness. Where there is light, there is energy and where there is energy, there is movement and where there is movement something eventually changes. When things change, people get anxious. We have only to look at the signs of the times around us to see that revitalizing energy at work:
The ongoing push for gun safety that pits inadequate gun ownership guidelines against citizen concerns for their own safety in a debate about whose constitutional rights are being eroded.
Racial and religious profiling of those who not only have a different skin color but a different culture, religion or way of dressing;
Economic disparity that pits the haves against the growing number of have-nots;
A planet whose natural resources are in danger of going the way of the untended vineyard.
These are hot button issues. They are also the places where the fire for justice and peace is burning. It is not easy to stand up for justice. It is not easy to face the bully in the schoolyard when the issue seems so big and we might feel so small. Jesus acknowledges that his brand of peace—should you choose to follow—will raise the hackles of discomfort even on your nearest and dearest. There has always been a cost to Jesus’ discipleship—back then and still today—but there are gifts from God that are hidden in that cost. Perhaps those are the whispers of hope we need to keep on our personal radar as we discover and unleash the radical peace that Jesus seems to suggest.
The gift of God imprisoned in economic disparity is an awareness of how God’s abundance was meant to be used—not horded into bigger and better barns for the benefit of a few but to be spread around liberally and generously for the joy of all. There will always be enough.
The gift of God imprisoned in racial profiling of blacks, Hispanics, immigrants, Muslims, is dignity. All of us were created in the image of God and regardless of the differences in our understanding of that image, we are all keepers of some part of God’s story. Such wonderfully diverse storykeepers should be celebrated, not denigrated.
The gift of God imprisoned in civil rights, whether that be women’s rights, voting rights, gay rights or the rights to public safety, is respect. Respect is recognition of the other. How can we honestly expect fair treatment for ourselves if we do nothing to ensure fair treatment for others around us?
The gift of God imprisoned in the issue of our changing climate is that we have an “island home” rich with possibilities. One of those possibilities is the power of our technology (also a gift from God) to assist us in sustaining all that God created so that this earth is preserved with us still on it.
Jesus is saying, “My brand of peace-making becomes your moment of decision-making. Do not be afraid. God has already counted the very hairs on your head. You are never alone for I am in your corner with you.” (Paraphrase)
So, it seems to come down to this: being one who goes forth with Jesus’ brand of peacemaking might well feel like it cuts like a sword or divides fluff from substance but perhaps that is the point. God is in this life with us to make a difference and so are we.
In 1968, Kent Keith, a 19 year old student activist composed a booklet entitled: “The Paradoxical Commandments”. There is a paraphrase of that document that is credited to Mother Theresa which goes like this:
People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway.
If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway.
For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.1
Come Holy Spirit, come. Come like the wind and cleanse. Come like the fire and burn. Consecrate us to our great good and your great glory. All this we ask in the name of your son, Jesus Christ the Prince of Peace who calls us to discover your brand of bold peace. Amen.