Bringing not peace, but the sword

– Monday of the 15th Week in Ordinary Time –

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” [Mt 10:34]

What on earth is Jesus on about here? In Matthew 5:9, he declares peacemakers blessed! And he never drew a sword against anyone.

This is one of those verses that can be difficult to fathom without a broader context. The historical context here is that of the Jewish culture, into which Jesus was born, and in which Jesus is ministering, and in which opposition arose to following Jesus. It is also important to quote the preceding two verses: “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in Heaven.” (vv.32-33)

The sword that Jesus is referring to in v.34 is a metaphorical one. The passage indicates that following Jesus within the original Jewish society may not bring peace but may split family groups in two. There may be a severing between a man and his father, a daughter and her mother and so on. Jesus is not encouraging division, but describing the tension and division that will be the unfortunate result of an uncompromising proclamation of the Kingdom. In fact, Mark’s Gospel indicates that Jesus own family resisted him, because they thought he was “out of his mind” (Mark 3:21).

What Jesus is saying is that, no matter what the cost, a true disciple of Christ must follow him to the end, even if it means giving up one’s own family.

This may sound shocking. It did to me when I first encountered this passage. Does it just apply to first century Judaism? Within the contemporary Catholic culture, there is much emphasis on the significance of the family and ‘family values’, and its place as the keystone of our culture. However, in my work as a psychologist, I have encountered many family systems who have opposed the emergence of Christian faith in their children, even to the extent of disinheritance.

Family ties are foundational, but a relationship with Christ is more so.

Has committing myself to Christ resulted in alienation from loved ones? How have I dealt with that?

by Janiene Wilson

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