“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” – Matthew 10:34
Most of us long for peace. Many of us identify as pacifists, many of us are members of peace organizations and Just Peace congregations. Few of us wish for more war and conflict. And for peaceniks like us, this kind of talk from Jesus makes us nervous. Were we wrong about Jesus? Is he a meet-me-on-the-playground-at-3 kind of leader after all?
We live in a world where war is good business. Where corporations and governments profit from the conflict between police and poor, and from the resulting imprisonment of millions. Where the powerful know that as long as the weak are fighting each other, they’re unlikely to turn on the ones holding the reins. Try to bring peace to any of those situations, and if their violence wasn’t already directed at you, it will be soon.
This is what Jesus meant, I think. Claim that every human life matters, and those who profit from the ending of lives are going to get mad at you. Demand that leaders see humans the way God sees humans, and leaders whose position depends on grinding others to dust are going to react. Show up as the Prince of Peace, and the lords of war are going to scramble their jets.
It’s not that Jesus likes violence, I don’t think. It’s more that he knows that in a world built on it, you can’t avoid it. It’s not desirable, but it’s inevitable. The only choice, really, is between living with the violence that already is, and living with the violence that comes with trying to change it.
God, I don’t know if the future I’m trying for will be better than the present, but I’m going to keep trying anyway. Amen.
Quinn G. Caldwell is the Pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church, Syracuse, New York. His most recent book is a series of daily reflections for Advent and Christmas called All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Learn more about it and find him on Facebook at Quinn G. Caldwell.