“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household”(Matthew 10:34-36).
Actually, this passage about sons and fathers, daughters and mothers, and so on, is a quotation from one of the Old Testament prophets (Micah 7:6). In this passage, the prophet predicts the terrible divisions that would always occur when God was doing a new thing. When God acts to rescue his people, there are always some who declare they don’t need rescuing, that they are comfortable as they are. Part of Jesus’ reason for quoting this passage here is to say: don’t be surprised if this happens now; this, too is part of your tradition! Your own scriptures contain warnings about the great disruptions that will happen when God finally acts once and for all to save you.
This is why Jesus’ challenge to the disciples themselves and, through them, to the Israel of his day, had to be so sharp – and often has to be just as sharp today, where people naturally prefer comfort to challenge.
In part one we viewed the implication of this teaching for our individual lives in order to see its meaning more clearly in our corporate life (part 2). The challenge also sets the church against the world.
This is why Christ was crucified, and make no mistake about it! He didn’t fit in. He did not hesitate to pronounce judgment upon the patterns of a society whose practices were flagrant violations of God’s laws. He was nailed to a cross and left hanging there to bleed and suffer because he didn’t knuckle under, he didn’t say what man wanted to hear, he didn’t play up to regional prejudices, capitalize on social fears, or parrot popular clichés!
Neither has his church when it has been the church! Read again, the Book of Acts: Peter wasn’t put in prison, Stephen wasn’t stoned, Paul wasn’t whipped because they reflected the world around them; they met their persecution because of the Christ within them!
Read the history of the early church. Men were not burned as human torches, women were not thrown into the gladiatorial arena, children did not hide in the catacombs because they conformed to the culture of their world, but because they were daily being transformed by the grace of God. They were turning a pagan, indifferent, complacent, unjust world upside down, and the world lashed back with death!
I wonder, if, in this city tomorrow, corrupt officials, dishonest businessmen, unethical employers, parasitic employees, hollow housewives, trite teachers, or arrogant youth are going to care one whit whether we met together this Sunday. I wonder whether evil in any of its many forms, be it unfair racial practices, disproportionate privilege, the dissemination of hate, fear, and suspicion, the exploitation of human weakness, will tremble in fear because, today the church has gathered to renew itself in worship in order tomorrow to be dispersed to penetrate, through your person and mine, every facet of community life.
If the price of social acceptance, mass appeal, or popular approval is silence, inaction, or compromise, it is too great a price to pay! By it we will have momentarily sought to save our lives as Christians and our existence as a church in the eyes of our fellowmen, only to have lost our lives and our claim to call ourselves a church in the eyes of God.
To be sure the peace of faithfulness, the serenity of sacrificial service, and the joy of having done our best may cost us pain. But is this so rare? Christ was nailed to a cross, Stephen felt the crushing blows of deadly stones, and James bore the steel sharpness of a cold sword.
And so it has been with true sons of God in every age – whether it has been pain of body, persecution of spirit, anguish of heart, despair of loneliness, or rejection of men.
The challenge of Jesus’ sayings is matched by the remarkable promises he makes to those who accept them and live by them. He will “own” us before his Father in heaven. Those who lose their lives will find them. And, at the end, the remarkable chain reaction of those who serve their fellow human beings out of love for Jesus. Give a cup of cold water to one of Jesus’ least significant followers, and you’re giving it to Jesus himself, whatever you do for Jesus, you do, not just for Jesus, but for God (“The one who sent me”). If Jesus’ people today could relearn this simple but profound lesson, the church might once again be able to go out with a message to challenge and change people’s hearts.