Sunday, June 22, 2008

Hurling peace

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law — a man's enemies will be the members of his own household. ~Matthew 10:34-36

In his sermon today, our celebrant used the words "not to hurl peace... but to hurl swords" I've just googled all the English versions available on Bible Gateway and couldn't find "hurl peace" anywhere. I found send peace, bring peace, put peace, and make life cozy, but no hurl peace. Our celebrant is a renown Bible scholar; I doubt he made it up, although he could have. It got my attention, (and not just for the multiple meanings of "hurl").

This is a tough passage for a lot of us. At Christmas we sing of Christ as the "Prince of Peace" and make much noise about "Peace on Earth, good will to everyone." Even Jesus said "Blessed are the peacemakers." Yet here he is, in Matthew's Gospel, saying that's not what he's about?

I love it when this particular preacher asks all the obvious questions and then comes up with the not-so-obvious answers. Well some are obvious, but most of his answers are too difficult to face much of the time. Today was no different. He first explained about context... that Matthew's Gospel was written in a period where the reality of being put to the sword was all-too-common for Christians. To the people of their day they were the lunatic fringe, subversives, a blasphemous sect, a bunch of crazies. They were hated by Orthodox Jews and pagans alike... for their abominations and mysterious superstitions. What we call today "deprogramming" back then meant death, not psychiatric counseling.

As Matthew's Gospel goes on to say in the following verses: He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. In the context of the times, to be a Christian required total commitment. There was no room for conflicting commitments to family, no compromise for someone looking to save his skin.

That was then; this is now. What about now? We are not now persecuted for our beliefs, and we bear the name of Christ without having to pick up his cross. In fact, many of us are quite reluctant to say we "stand with Christ" when it's politically offensive or personally inconvenient.

But the point was this: we (as Christians) are not supposed to be the ones hurling the sword. (Uh oh.) To stand with Christ means to be the victim as He was. (Double uh oh.) I think of 9/11... and our haste to wage war on someone... anyone so we could feel better about ourselves. The few lone voices of reason and compassion and desire for reconciliation were quickly shushed up in the headstrong rush for retaliation. We asked the wrong questions. We went to war for the wrong reasons and with the wrong people. We learned nothing.

Our celebrant concluded: "The Christian message is not to be advanced by killing, but by dying." How many Americans are willing to die? How many Christians world-wide are willing to die? I see plenty willing to kill.

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