The Rev. Paul Rock, Second Presbyterian Church: No doubt, these are disturbing words from the lips of Jesus. Perhaps this inflammatory quote was inserted by a zealous redactor.
Or, more likely, Jesus understood how humanity would respond to the way his life edited out the exclusive and violent Scripture verses that many had grown to love.
Remember the story of Jesus returning to his hometown synagogue in Nazareth? There was a stir as this local boy who had made a name for himself took the scroll of Isaiah and began to read: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me… to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…” and there he stopped.
That was it. Jesus was making clear that God’s message was one of grace, liberty and release. But the people in the synagogue weren’t happy. If you recall, they were incensed.
The mob grabbed Jesus and dragged him to the edge of town to throw him from a cliff.
Why? Because they knew the verse from Isaiah didn’t end there. It ends declaring “… the day of vengeance of our God.”
Jesus’ message was incendiary because he consistently challenged the “us-them” oppositional world view we humans tend to be take comfort in. Jesus de-exclusivized the love and grace of God.
And when the “in” group hears that the “out” group is now invited to the table, well, we tend to throw people off cliffs and pick up swords. Swords that Christ, if we allow, helps us beat back into plowshares.
The Rev. Perry Sukstorf, Redeemer Lutheran Church: At Christmas time we all heard that Jesus is the Prince of Peace and that he brings good will to all humankind. How, then, can we align this sentiment with the first part of this quotation from Jesus himself: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth…”
We do this by translating the infinitives of the passage as infinitives of result, as opposed to infinitives of purpose. “I have come” might more accurately be thought of “I have come with the result of” instead of “I came with the purpose of…”
According the New Testament, Christ came to earth to fulfill the law and to die in the place of those who have not fulfilled the law and deserved death.
But the sword of the law does not bring to our hearts peace, but war, until we repent of our sin and seek his forgiveness. Hearing that forgiveness in the Gospel, and believing in his subsequent resurrection, we then are at once restored, along with the peace that passes all understanding.
Families are sometimes split apart when one of their members begins to believe in Jesus while others don’t. A harsh reality is shared by Jesus: Which is better, to know me and have eternal life, or live under a tense and fragile peace with friends and family only to spend eternity of suffering and separation from God.
I think most of us would rather endure a season of pain for an eternity of peace.
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