Jesus Didn’t Come to Bring Peace?
“Tell me about a time that you had to choose between what was easy and what was right.” I was ready for many of the standard job interview questions. Questions like, “What’s your greatest weakness?” This question, though, caught me off guard. I wasn’t prepared for a question about conflict, but I should have been. My eventual employer knew, like many of us know, that conflict is inevitable. But how we handle conflict, whether in the workplace, at school, in our homes or in the church, reveals how much we value others. Knowing that conflict is inevitable means we’re called to prepare for it, pray through it and work for peace. Listen to the sermon, “Jesus Didn’t Come to Bring Peace?”
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples that he did not come to bring peace to the earth but a sword. Read Matthew 10:32-36. This is a difficult passage to understand, because it seems to be in conflict with so much of what Jesus teaches and what scripture tells us about God. Even though it’s tempting to side step these tough words or to try to explain them away, our faith grows when we wrestle with Jesus’ most difficult words. Because they can help us learn how to live wisely and well.
The context of this passage helps us understand the tone of Jesus’ words. At the start of chapter 10, Jesus commissions the twelve disciples for ministry. He tells them the good news first: they will be given power to heal people, to cast out demons in his name. But there is also bad news: you’ll run into problems, and you will have to make difficult choices. When Jesus offers these words to his disciples—and, by extension, to us—he is sitting them down for a sort of job interview or workplace orientation. He is asking them, “How will you choose between what is easy and what is right?”
Jesus is not telling the disciples to go out and cause division or pain. Instead, he’s warning them that division will happen, and they’re called to deal with it gracefully. The Gospel will cause division, public and private, because of its power. Division is not the goal but a consequence of Christ’s coming. Jesus exposes our brokenness and weakness and offers a better way. The path to peace doesn’t avoid conflict but confronts and transforms it.
When Jesus tells his disciples that the members of their own families are their enemies, we would be wise to remember words from elsewhere in the Gospel of Matthew. In Matthew 12:50, Jesus redefines family, saying “whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” So Jesus is establishing a new household in which all are welcomed into God’s loving embrace. And for those who are causing conflict inside and outside of this household, those who would be labeled enemies, he has other words to offer. What are we supposed to do for our enemies? Love them (Matthew 5:44). Pray for them (Luke 6:28). When that happens, our enemies are no longer our enemies, and together we are members of the household of God.
How do you respond when you have to choose between what’s easy and what’s right? How are you preparing to respond faithfully when you’re presented with a tough choice?
Pastor Matt Potter