Not peace, but a sword: reading Matthew 10.24-38 with Stanley Hauerwas

Leave a comment

May 21, 2013 by jmar198013

“Disciples aren’t greater than their teacher, and slaves aren’t greater than their master. It’s enough for disciples to be like their teacher and slaves like their master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, it’s certain that they will call the members of his household by even worse names.

“Therefore, don’t be afraid of those people because nothing is hidden that won’t be revealed, and nothing secret that won’t be brought out into the open. What I say to you in the darkness, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, announce from the rooftops. Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body but can’t kill the soul. Instead, be afraid of the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell. Aren’t two sparrows sold for a small coin? But not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father knowing about it already. Even the hairs of your head are all counted. Don’t be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows.

“Therefore, everyone who acknowledges me before people, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven. But everyone who denies me before people, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.

“Don’t think that I’ve come to bring peace to the earth. I haven’t come to bring peace but a sword. I’ve come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. People’s enemies are members of their own households.

“Those who love father or mother more than me aren’t worthy of me. Those who love son or daughter more than me aren’t worthy of me. Those who don’t pick up their crosses and follow me aren’t worthy of me. Those who find their lives will lose them, and those who lose their lives because of me will find them.”  (Matt. 10.24-38 CEB)

Post image for “I have come not to bring peace, but a sword”

I recently had a friend pose this question to me: If Jesus is the Prince of Peace, how do we explain Matt. 10.34: Don’t think that I’ve come to bring peace to the earth. I haven’t come to bring peace but a sword? This is definitely a hard saying, and one that is spun by some to mean that Jesus advocated the use of violence. Indeed, Matt. 10.34 was one of the texts employed to justify the Crusades. A close look at the surrounding context, however, reveals that Jesus is not at all instructing his disciples to take up arms; just the opposite–he is preparing them to suffer violence as peaceful witnesses to God’s truth. He is speaking to the disciples as those he is sending armed with nothing but the truthfulness of the gospel into a violent world that will not necessarily welcome such truthfulness from witnesses as vulnerable as the disciples. Stanley Hauerwas’ comments help guide us into reading this passage as Jesus’ words about being a people of peace in a world of violent opposition.

Jesus . . . says that he has come not to bring peace to the earth but a sword . . . Not only will governors and kings hate and persecute the apostles, but the family will be fractured by loyalty to him . . . The sword he has brought, the sword that is an alternative to the peace of the world, is the sword of the cross . . . That Christians carry no sword other than the cross does not mean, however, that we are sent into the world defenseless . . . Christians are not without defense, having been given God’s word to shield us from our delusions that are the source of our violence.

Jesus . . . is clear. Attempts to secure our lives through the means offered by the world are doomed to failure. If we are to find our lives, it seems, we must be prepared to lose our lives. But this is not a general recommendation that we should learn unselfishness–even unselfishness that may cost our lives–for the life we must be willing to lose is the life lost “for my sake,” that is, for Jesus. Self-sacrifice, often justified in the name of family or country, can too easily be tyrannical. The language of sacrifice is often used by those in power for perverse ends. Jesus does not commend the loss of self as a good in and of itself. He demands that we follow him because he alone has the right to ask for our lives.

Too often Christianity in our time is justified as a way of life that leads to stability and order. “The family that prays together stays together”–but such sentiments cannot but lead to an idolatry of the family. “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” (Matt. 10:37) is a hard saying, but one that makes clear why Jesus must prepare the disciples for persecution . . . Not a little is at stake. The violence of nations is often justified in the name of protecting our loves–our way of life. Yet it is exactly those loyalties that Jesus calls into question as he instructs his disciples.

. . .

[T]he fundamental challenge to the truthfulness of Christian convictions resides in Christian accommodation to loyalties not determined by Jesus. Of course Jesus will not let his followers kill; but he does demand that they be willing to die . . . To follow Jesus, to love Jesus, may mean that we and those we love cannot be spared death–a harsh and dreadful love, but a love disciplined by the love of this one who makes life itself possible. To be sure, if the Father is not the Father of Jesus then to contemplate the death of those we love is immoral. But the Father is the Father of Jesus and Jesus is the Son of the Father.

. . .

Christians rightly should fear, but they do not fear death; they fear the one who has made it possible to live courageously in the face of death . . . God’s love makes possible a confidence that drives out the fear that those who kill use to compel obedience to their will. Jesus tells his disciples, therefore, not to be afraid, because they are of more value than the sparrows. That God loves us, those he has called through his Son, more than he loves the sparrows, does not mean that the sparrows are not loved as sparrows should be loved.

. . .

We do not learn how the disciples fared on the mission to Israel. Rather, we are told that after Jesus had finished instructing the disciples he went on to proclaim his message “in their cities” (Matt. 11:1), that is, in the same cities to which he sent his disciples. That we do not learn how successful or unsuccessful the disciples may have been indicates that the task is not one determined by success. Rather, to do what we have been told to do by Jesus and to do what we have been told in the manner he has instructed is what is important. Our responsibility is to be faithful to the task God has given us. The result is God’s doing. (In Matthew, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible [Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2006], 108-12).

Jesus’ word that his presence in the world brings not peace but a sword is a word about the sharp divisions that his presence in the world through his disciples and through his church will occasion. In a bitterly ironic twist, the presence of a peaceful people ruled by the Prince of Peace will make the world more violent. Jesus does not, however, suppose that the disciples or the church will be the perpetrators of violence. Rather, they will be an occasion for violence in a violent world. Jesus himself should know. For he declares that, Disciples aren’t greater than their teacher, and slaves aren’t greater than their master. It’s enough for disciples to be like their teacher and slaves like their master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, it’s certain that they will call the members of his household by even worse names.That the disciples will undergo violence in the world is prefigured by the life and death of their master teacher, Jesus, who was himself touched by the violence of Caesar’s sword by being crucified on Caesar’s cross. Jesus’ words to his disciples were meant to train them–and the church that followed–for faithful and patient endurance, just as Jesus demonstrated in his own life and death.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

sketch

chronicles

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 151 other followers

%d bloggers like this: