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 (NRSV)
Many a cartoon character has swung a sword haphazardly, their (un)intended targets escaping the consequences that would’ve befallen them had they encountered a real sword. Sword enthusiasts undoubtedly cringe to see these misrepresentations.
Likewise, Jesus enthusiasts—back then and now—likely cringe at his sharp words. We often imagine a child-inviting, good-news-bringing, body-and-spirit-healing Jesus. Alas, this double-sided Jesus is difficult to witness.
Of all the things he could’ve brought instead of peace, why bring a sword?
My guess? Precision. From the metals utilized to the length, weight, and style, real-life swords are deliberately designed for their specific uses, making cartoon-like gestures nearly impossible without injuring oneself—that is, before the blade does. When used correctly, their slashes are nearly surgical.
With a meticulous commitment to justice, Jesus cuts into our world with a tool of destruction. Unlike typical sword wielders, though, he severs the systems that oppress those most in need. He dissects the divisions that perpetuate violence. He hacks the hate that poisons our shared divinity.
We’ve become so familiar with our communal sinfulness and individual unwellness that healing feels like a threat. That makes Jesus’ unexpected tool choice even more essential because purposeful incisions do less damage than the jagged tears from prolonged stressors.
After a year of one crisis after another, clinging to what we’ve known is a natural choice. However, in this time of anticipation, might we embrace this new Crisis who arrives in the form of a tiny little baby?
Come, O Long-Awaited Crisis! Be near us, we pray, as we prepare for your arrival with purpose and precision.
The Rev. Phiwa Langeni is the Ambassador for Innovation & Engagement of the United Church of Christ. They are also the Founder of Salus Center, the only LGBTQ resource and community center in Lansing, MI.