Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Problem with the Peace Posting?

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

I'd like to take a moment to reflect on the gospel reading the Catholic Church used yesterday for the daily mass. Funny, because my last post was all about spreading the peace of Jesus Christ. The gospel reading I am referring to from yesterday reads:

Jesus said to his Apostles:
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth.
I have come to bring not peace but the sword.
For I have come to set
a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s enemies will be those of his household.

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me,
and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;
and whoever does not take up his cross
and follow after me is not worthy of me.
Whoever finds his life will lose it,
and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

“Whoever receives you receives me,
and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.
Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet
will receive a prophet’s reward,
and whoever receives a righteous man
because he is righteous
will receive a righteous man’s reward.

And whoever gives only a cup of cold water
to one of these little ones to drink
because he is a disciple–
amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.”

This text comes from the end of Chapter 10 in the Gospel of Matthew. When I first read this and then heard it aloud, I was sort of astounded that the writer of the gospel would have Jesus saying such a thing. It seems contrary to "Peace be with you," or "love one another." Jesus comes to "bring not peace but the sword?" Is this really what we are supposed to take to heart if we subscribe to the Christian way of life? Come on!

The particular gospel passage I quote above tugs at me in one sense because I tend to feel closest to God and neighbor when I am most at peace. But maybe, just maybe, this is a subtle sign of me turning too far inward to obtain an earthly peace. Maybe, this gospel reading is meant to turn my stomach into a knot and make me feel uncomfortable, even restless. Maybe, this is a challenge from the writer of the gospel. If I look at this teaching as a reason to be angry at injustice around our world, then I am able to, in a minuscule way, understand what this passage in Matthew is getting at. Jesus might be coming to bring the sword to fight against the oppressive forces of his day, first century Palestine. The sword might be aimed at those in power who seek to abolish the rights of the citizens under their reign. The sword saves in that it cuts the net that the oppressed find themselves under. The sword saves in a metaphorical sense. If Jesus were to bring only peace, how could he have fought injustice? We can fight in a peaceful way, but when we fight we are attempting to slay injustices.

I'm still struggling with this gospel reading. I found a website where a woman named Kay Murdy posts daily reflections about each gospel reading. Here is what Kay had to say about yesterday's gospel.

Jesus was aware that his message would not be accepted by everyone, and he exhorted the twelve apostles to have courage under persecution. He warned them that members of their own families might be their adversaries. Those who wished to follow in Jesus' footsteps, must be willing to put the gospel before all else, even their own lives. They must be prepared to be treated like the prophets of old who suffered for proclaiming God's word. The apostles wer Christian "prophets" who would speak God's saving message of the new covenant. Whoever received these followers of Jesus were receiving Jesus himself, and God who sent him, and they would be rewarded for their kindness to God's messengers.

Borrowed from Kay Murdy, http://www.daily-word-of-life.com/framesOne.htm

The bold words from Jesus to his disciples regarding the sword and peace are, in Murdy's opinion, meant to promote courage in proclaiming the gospel message. If the disciples go out and "fight" to bring the word of God to people, then it seems more like a mission with a purpose, the purpose being to spread a message of love and hope. Jesus encourages his apostles to put love before everything, put it before their own aspirations and dreams so as to make the spreading of love their complete and lasting aspiration. That sword, then, is meant to cut through the hardness of all of our hearts and expose a sincere heart ready to bleed for all sisters and brothers.

I can't look at this gospel reading in Matthew as justification for the use of violence in the promotion and spreading of the Christian message. If that is the intention of the Gospel writers, then my amateur interpretation of and musing on this gospel reading is sadly mistaken. I can not possibly imagine Jesus is literally telling his apostles to use swords to spread the word. But I can imagine a Christ, a prophet, who comes to sweep over the people in such an intense way that it seems as if his message is supported by the use of swords and violence. His message of complete love and hope is so radical, his desire for political and religious change in his time so swift, that he seems like a sword cutting through the sometimes naively accepted establishments. The sword is a symbol of passion, and if we can look at it as a sword cutting oppression so as to free people to the message of complete and universal love and worth, then by bringing a sword, the message and life of Jesus will, as he passes from this world and lives in our midst today in some mysterious way, somehow, someway bring peace into our world. It is up to us to bring peace, for as Jesus says in the Gospel of John:

"I can guarantee this truth: Those who believe in me will do the things that I am doing. They will do even greater things because I am going to the Father."

Jesus brings the sword and when he "goes to the Father," it is part of our responsibility as followers, even simply as lovers of humanity, to draw from his sword so as to promote and produce peace in our world.

Please post any comments or reactions to this posting. I feel like this reading might spark some reaction from others.


with love,

your friend bob.

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