Last week, if you read the whole Gospel passage, you will have picked up that being a disciple is no stroll in the park; in fact you would be forgiven for thinking that this good news of the kingdom of heaven is not all that we might imagine good news to be! The tone continues today as Jesus continues his instructions to his disciples. To loosen us up, we read the prophet ‘fire in my bones’ Jeremiah, describing the presence of God with him like a dread warrior. For all his faithfulness, Jeremiah ended up being stoned to death by his people. And of course, Jesus was crucified.
Today’s passage speaks variously of the threats his followers will face in speaking the truth and of division within families and says that Jesus has come not to bring peace, but a sword. I wonder what we make of that. It is not so long ago ( on Easter Sunday and the following Sunday) that we heard Jesus greet his disciples in the Upper Room with the words Peace be with you before breathing on them and commissioning them with the gift of the spirit. Here Jesus is telling his disciples that he has come not to bring peace but a sword. Is there something about the Kingdom that Jesus proclaims, the God whose face Jesus reveals to us, that is so at odds with the ways of the world – that it will always be seen as a threat to business as usual?
In the passage Jesus says Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. What are we meant to fear here? What is it that can destroy our souls? What can destroy our humanity? Well one clear example in the last few weeks is how racism has the capacity to destroy both bodies and souls. When we watch the knee of a white police officer kneel on the neck of a black man and kill him as he is watched by his colleagues, we are seeing the poison of racism destroying the soul, the humanity of those white officers. The same poison that divides, isolates, injures and kills and generates the hells in which so many are expected to live. We hear Silence is Compliance from those witnessing to the preciousness of all life – not protesters, rather truth tellers. We cannot, as a society, as individuals, ignore our history, and hide behind a banner saying that we are all Innocent Bystanders.
When Jesus says he has come not to bring peace but a sword, it is not that he is setting out intentionally to sow division (that rather is precisely the work of Satan – the accuser, the divider) but rather his message tells of a deep, life-changing peace that doesn’t hesitate to break in order to mend, and cut in order to heal. Jesus will name realities we do not want named. He will upset hierarchies we would rather keep intact. He will expose the lies we tell ourselves out of cowardice, laziness, or obstinacy. And he will disrupt all dynamics in our relationships with ourselves and with each other that keep us from wholeness and holiness. This is not because Jesus wants us to suffer. It is because he knows that real peace is worth fighting for. Maybe another title for Jesus could be Disturber of the Peace.
The passage ends with one of the many famous sayings of Jesus: those who find their life will lose it and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. Again, not a call for an unhealthy denial of life; rather the opposite; a call to look in a different direction for happiness and well-being. Paul writes about the new self being a transformed self, changed lives, bearing the fruits of the spirit in relation to ourselves and others; lives transformed here and now in this life. That transformation is not just for individuals but for the world we live in; when we pray ‘thy kingdom come’, we pray for, among other things, a time when white police officers will not kneel on the necks of black men until they can breathe no longer.
The journey starts now, here – where else could it start? We have the promise of God’s spirit with us both to inspire and to protect, as we find ways of living well with ourselves and with each other. In our collect to day we pray:
Lord you have taught us that all our doings without love are nothing worth: send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of love.
Let us open our hearts to receive that most excellent gift of love.
Revd Jonathan Morris
24 “The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!
26 “So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
32 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.
34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn
“‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.’ Matthew 10:24-39