Online Sunday School. The Gospel of Matthew, God With Us, Kerygma materials, Chapter 8

Matthew 10 says “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.”

This passage comes in the context of Jesus preparing his disciples for the costs of discipleship. However standing alone “34 Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword“ poses challenges, particularly today. Jesus is supposed to be the “prince of peace” producing endless peace with justice and righteousness (Isaiah 9, 6-7). He said “blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5, 9), told his disciples “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” (John 14:27) and said “peace be with you” during several resurrection appearances to his disciples. Jesus does not use violence to accomplish his goals, at worst turning over some tables of the moneychangers in the temple, and when his disciples try to defend him with swords, says “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” ( Matthew 26, 52). Luke’s gospel says “I did not come to bring peace, but division” instead of “a sword.” (Luke 12-51)

Jesus’ disciples are part of a culture that was occupied by a foreign army and had no army of its own. He is directing this to them, not to an armed power like Rome or millennia later, to America. An issue for his time is the Messianic expectations generated by the Old Testament could be for a Davidic king who will overcome Rome by force and restore political autonomy to Israel (Isaiah 11, 12-14), and not for a “suffering servant” who silently poured himself out to death to bear the sins of the many (Isaiah 53. 9-12).

So the idea that Jesus is bringing “not peace but a sword” may be a passage akin to the one where people are advised to pluck out their eyes if their eyes cause them to sin (Matthew 5, 29), a metaphor expressing urgency and value rather than mandating literal harmful conduct. Thus Jesus is not advising his disciples that he is taking up swords to destroy peace and they should too. Instead he is telling them that that the way of life Jesus is bringing them will put them into conflict in a society where most people, even in their own families, think and live in other ways.

Leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi have considered how to conduct conflicts for justice without engaging in violence. These conflicts were certainly emotionally upsetting to those they were waged against, could bring violence down on the heads of those conducting the nonviolent action, and by not resisting or retaliating against evil could appear weak or foolish to those who believed that violent retaliation was the only viable way to succeed in the world. Often there was an assumption that the adversaries had a good side that could be appealed to or convinced. Inherent in this is the idea that peace is not just the absence of apparent conflict, attained by not struggling against abuse, but a state of “shalom” or well-being which may require overcoming divisions, or succeeding in spite of them, in ways consistent with loving one’s adversaries.