In my early days of exploring the possibility that Jesus was a pacifist–and therefore wondering if I, too, ought become one–I vividly recall people in my life rolling their eyes at the idea of Jesus as a peace-loving, sandal-wearing, non-violent hippie.
“Give me a break,” they’d say, “Jesus was no push over. Sure, he preached about love, but he wouldn’t tolerate terrorism or look the other way from an evildoer.” Then, if they were well versed in the Bible, they might go on to point out, “Jesus himself said that he didn’t come to bring peace. He came to bring a sword!”
Now, setting aside for a moment the sadly common misunderstanding that “being a pacifist” is synonymous with “being passive,” it was hard for me to know how to counter their use of Jesus’ own words against me.
All three of the synoptic story tellers (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) have a version of this quote from Jesus. Here’s how Matthew wrote it,
34 “Don’t think that I’ve come to bring peace to the earth. I haven’t come to bring peace but a sword. 35 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.
For anyone beginning a journey into the possibility of Jesus-as-Pacifist, this passage is a gnarly burr in your hippie sandal.
How can we reconcile the idea that, on one hand, Jesus is about reconciliation, peace-making, and love… who teaches to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, forgive 70×7 times, love your enemy, and bless those who curse you…
…and on the other hand, he made a declaration that he didn’t come to bring peace.
And worse, he came to bring a sword.
To turn family members against one another.
Forget “Jesus the Peace-Loving Hippie,”
More like, “Jesus the Divider.”
If you haven’t yet watched the video above, then I’ll say here that for years this passage has confounded me. Unsure of what to do with it, I’ve merely set on the shelf of my consciousness, trusting that one day I might know how to think about it. How to better understand what Jesus was getting at.
Didn’t come to bring peace?
Came to bring a sword?
That’s messed up.
Or… is it?
Over the next couple of posts I want to offer what I’ve been learning about this passage and how I’ve finally taken it down off the shelf and found how it fits within (instead of diametrically opposing) the vision of Jesus I’ve come to know and love (aka, the one where he’s about making peace and reconciliation and all the things).
If this verse has ever confused you,
or held you back from accepting that Jesus was a pacifist (and that you ought be, too!),
then stick around.
I think Jesus the Divider has a lot to teach us.