Thursday, October 15, 2009

I have not come to bring peace, but a sword


‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

For I have come to set a man against his father,

and a daughter against her mother,

and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;

and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.’

- Matthew 10:34-42

In this part of the gospel of Matthew, Jesus is continuing his discourse to his apostles before they begin their first mission. He has already instructed them that they are to give their peace when they come upon a home or a town; wherever it is accepted it will remain, and if it is not welcome their peace will return to the apostles. Jesus has invested power in his apostles to teach, to heal, to minister in every way, so that his ministry may be extended through them. He has taught them that they are to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. By the same token, he has taught them that the servant is not greater than his master: what befalls Jesus will also be in the life of his servants.

In today's passage, he continues his discourse on the conditions the apostles will find, and the nature of this mission on which he is sending them as an extension of his own mission in the world. In Tuesday's passage, Jesus has taught that 'brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name.' Here, Jesus expands on the divisive nature of what he has to teach, and the reality of the kingdom brought into a world that is at odds with its values and its laws of love. This relationship to the kingdom runs so deeply within people, this choice to love what this message is about has so much to do with the depths inside of us, that it will disrupt all other relationships. It runs more deeply within us than all our other relationships. 'Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.'

Furthermore, the nature of loyalties to this faith in the kingdom is such that it will command our greatest allegiance. ' Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.' In yesterday's passage, Jesus has already taught that 'everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.' So, in today's passage he cements this understanding that what is in our hearts - this allegiance to the kingdom - must come before all else. That is, our loyalties to this relationship will test all others, and must come first in choice if there are any conflicts. We exchange one sort of identity (of household, of people or clan) and we take on another via a relationship that holds our loyalty more deeply within our hearts and souls than any other. We exchange one life for another; this is the discipleship he's asking for, to 'take up the cross' as he does.

'Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.' Elaborating on the notions of extension - not only of his own mission and power in the world through his apostles and their mission, but also of his very life and Person through them - Jesus explains what it is to represent that kingdom. Where they are received, he is received. To the degree that they are accepted by others, so will those others receive the return of that faith - just as the nature of the apostles' peace, extended to others, will remain with them should they choose to receive it. Even to the extent that the hospitality of a cup of cold water to the least among them in the name of disciple is shown, so will reward belong to those who receive them.

There is a tremendous creative power at work in the work of this kingdom. It is a kind of "karmic" notion (as we might think of this word, in popular parlance). I like to call this the logic of the kingdom. It is the way that its power, through love, works. What is given is given freely. It is extended to all. What we receive, we receive in our hearts - and what we reject, we also reject at that depth of the self. What we can receive will be the depth of our blessing. At the same time, this nature allows that our deepest relationships may be disrupted by this determining factor of what is in the heart, what is accepted and received, or rejected. The power of this spiritual kingdom at work, whatever way we choose, will have its effect. There is no neutral.

Throughout the gospels, Jesus has instructed his disciples to teach others to whom they minister that 'the kingdom of heaven has come near.' This peace that is offered, this kingdom, will act as a sword: one chooses to either accept or reject. As disciples, Jesus asks that we be "all in." We in whom he invests this kingdom are truly to be like him in every way. Each of us chooses to accept or reject what is offered. Whatever way we choose, so we are taught here, determines where we stand. We always have the option to make this choice, one way or another - at every moment. There is always a choice to make in the here and now, today.