Discipleship and Division
What is the role of our Christian discipleship in our everyday lives? How are we to be in our personal lives, our family, friends, society, community, country? Because as Christians we aren’t merely a label, or a tag. We are not Lutheran, Baptist, Catholic, Assembly of God, or even non-denominational, we are disciples and as disciples we are called to leave lives according to our teacher’s commands and instructions and today’s gospel lesson lays out all the pitfalls disciples will face on this wonderful journey of Christian faith.
When we listened to today’s gospel lesson I hope you all felt uncomfortable, and you should have felt uncomfortable. We think of Jesus as the Prince of Peace, a Mighty Counselor, Son of God, Mighty Savior. We think of Jesus as saving the world from sin through his sacrifice of his life.. Therefore, to hear Jesus tell us that he did not come to bring peace to the world, but a sword, we can’t help but to do a double take. What do you mean Jesus came into the world to creative division and Jesus’ words of impending family divisions and fracturing should make us all squirm just a little bit. To hear that he didn’t come to bring peace to the world, but a sword we should all jump just a little bit.
From our perspective the opposite of peace is war. In war we fight the enemy with whatever means are available. The purpose of war is usually to overthrow one ruling power and replace it with a more friendly ruling power. When we think of war it is usually us versus them and we want to win. In our definition of war there are good people and evil people and no gray areas. Furthermore, Jesus’ words today have been the justification of war for noble causes for the last 2000 years.
The problem with this interpretation is that it doesn’t do justice to Jesus’ meaning within our lesson today. Jesus is not talking about war, Jesus is talking about faithfulness and obedience to His Father’s teachings. What we have in today’s gospel reading is a continuation of Jesus’ instructions to the 12 apostles before they go out into the world proclaiming the gospel. What Jesus is preparing them for is the reality of how the world will receive their message. The disciples’ words and works are not going to be met with open hearts and minds. Rather, the truth of Jesus’ message is going to bring about hardship, oppression, and division.
At the end of last week’s gospel lesson Jesus instructed the 12 to be wise as serpents and as gentle as doves. Jesus also instructed them to bring very few provisions and to live off of the kindness and mercy of those they meet. If it was war that he was preparing the 12 for then he did a very poor job of arming them. However, it isn’t a battlefield that Jesus is sending the 12, but rather into the world that has some very set ideas about right and wrong, righteousness and holiness, about mercy and forgiveness. The gospel message that the 12 are to proclaim will challenge every preconceived religious, cultural, political, social, and conventional norm of his day. The message of the gospel is a challenge to the status quo and and a threat to those who profit from the norms of the day.
When I say profit I don’t just mean financially, but also in a sense of who is in control and what group maintains and controls power. The gospel challenges the patriarchal structure of society, the belief that the Israelites are the exclusively chosen people of God at the expense of all others. The gospel of Jesus challenges the order of how everything functions in society and why it functions that way. The gospel is a sword that divides families, communities, cultures, countries, and the world. The division that Jesus is talking about is not intended to be violent from the Christian perspective, rather it is to be non-violent in the face of violent opposition.
We cannot take Jesus’ words today and hold them up completely out of context with the rest of the gospel. Jesus who says, “I didn’t come to bring peace to the world but a sword.” is the same Jesus who spoke the Sermon on the Mount and lea a huge tutorial on non-aggression towards violence. This is the same Jesus who instructed his disciples to walk the extra mile, turn the other cheek, and to give up their cloak. This is the same Jesus who instructed the 12 and all who could hear him, that we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. So, what in the world does Jesus mean in today’s lesson about bringing the sword.
The sword is a metaphorical term for the gospel. Jesus is explaining that the gospel will be their only resource in confronting a hostile world. The way they are to use the gospel is to not destroy the opposition, but to win the opposition over to Jesus’ way of understanding the world. By living their lives completely opposite to what is expected of them by their family, culture, religion, and nation they will cause division. A disciple’s obedience to God’s teaching through Christ will pit fathers against sons and mothers against daughters. By living faithfully to Jesus’ commands and instructions disciples will be kicked out of the synagogue and forced to seek community away from their family and friends. The divisions Jesus is talking about will be real and they will be painful, but they won’t occur out of spite or hate on the disciples part, but rather out of love and grace.
Jesus knows exactly what he is talking about and he understands the cold hard facts of opposition that the disciples are going to face because he will be facing them first. Jesus throughout his ministry faced opposition from all walks of life. Some thought he was just a trouble maker leading people down the wrong path, some thought his message was great, but couldn’t see how it would ever work. Some people thought he got what he had coming to him for being so rebellious. Jesus asking of the 12 to do anything that he himself won’t do. Jesus is working to bring about radical change to God’s world, change that God himself has ordained.
This is work that we are called to do today. We are the called who have been summoned to proclaim the gospel without fear. We are asked to stand up and boldly proclaim that being a disiciple of Jesus means that we live our lives differently. We seek out justice, love mercy, and walk humbly. We speak out when the world would rather we kept silent. We draw a line with the sword of the gospel and say this is where Jesus stands and I stand with Him. Before making that bold move I ask that we all take a close look at Jesus and Jesus’ teaching and make sure we are standing with Christ.
Jesus was highly concerned about justice, equality, mercy, and forgiveness. Jesus taught parables that exposed hypocrisy and intolerance, but always ended with the opportunity for forgiveness. Before getting on a soap box make sure it is Jesus’ soap box. Do you want to know why I never preach politics? It is not because Jesus is a political because Jesus is very political. I don’t preach politics because I can’t guarantee that I will preach Jesus’ politics not my own. Our political discourse is divisive in an unforgiving and unyielding way. We have divided our country into two parties, mine, which is good and righteous, and the others who are evil. Jesus’ politics doesn’t work that way. Jesus’ politics consist of Jesus’ message of the Kingdom of God and God’s children who need to be converted with love. I am called to preach Jesus’ politics and let me tell you it is convicting. I don’t mean convicting of others, but convicting of myself. With Jesus’ message I am called up short and am made aware of just how far off the mark of God’s expectations I am.
The only politics you’ll hear from this pulpit is the politics of God’s Kingdom which is rooted and based in love. If we could all do this – step outside of ourselves and look at the world through the gospel and act as disciples maybe then Christians can begin to contribute to the politics of this world in a healthy and positive light. Until then let us listen to the words of Jesus and let the Holy Spirit be our guide and let God do the rest.