ESV Matthew 10:34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 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. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 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. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 40 “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. 41 The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”
There’s so much conflict in our world today. All you have to do is turn on the news and see how many of the headlines are about violence, hatred, death, conflict. And somehow this isn’t how it’s supposed to be. Just six months ago, we celebrated the birth of the Prince of Peace. And yet here we are, surrounded by conflict. Conflict between nations, between groups of people, between families, and even conflict within our own families and our own lives. Didn’t Jesus come to bring peace to all this mess? When do I get to stop fighting? stop struggling? Where is my peace?
Well, exactly what are you asking for? The reality is that we like peace, even when it’s false. Peace is comfortable. No one likes to come home to a house where people are constantly arguing. Ask any child who’s had the tragic experience of living in a house where the parents are in conflict. It forces you to be constantly on edge, ready for the war to start back up. It’s exhausting.
And so we chase after peace, even if it means ignoring things we know we shouldn’t. by shoving the conflict underground, covering it up. Peace is safety. When things change, it unsettles us. This is what keeps the young woman trapped in the abusive relationship. She knows it’s wrong and broken and unhealthy, but it’s familiar and safe in its own way.
And so we refuse to change, even knowing that what exists is killing us. But that’s not really peace, is it? We can avoid talking about it, but we haven’t really figured anything out, have we? We haven’t really solved the issues that are causing conflict. Have you ever had one of those meals when two of the people at the table have this relationship that’s just broken and they’re dealing with it by not dealing with it? It’s miserable! You can cut the tension with a knife. Even if we tiptoe around the topic, it’s plain that this isn’t what real peace is supposed to be.
It’s no use pretending. When you do that, you live in fear. Things covered are eventually uncovered, and while we wait, they own us. It looks like peace, but it’s fake. And fake peace comes with a cost. How many of us have that one relationship where we know things aren’t how they should be, but we don’t know how to change it? How many of us have a family member with whom we’ve just agreed to disagree about those subjects that everyone knows not to bring up?
And so we compromise; we “live and let live” in the name of peace. But fake peace even brings death. As long as we view life primarily as being about pursuing the appearance of peace, we live a lie. As long as our friendships are about getting along instead of loving discussion, they’re mere shadows of what they’re intended to be. As long as our relationship with God is primarily about concealing our sin from him, from others, and from ourselves, we can’t find real peace.
So Jesus came to bring not peace, but a sword. Real peace is the ancient Hebrew idea of shalom. Shalom isn’t just a matter of not actively fighting in this moment. It’s about having restored relationships. Shalom is about wholeness in body, in mind, in relationships with other people, and in our relationship with God. And God knows that true shalom begins by dealing with the broken relationships that divide us from him and isolate us from one another. That’s why Jesus says, “Don’t think I’ve come to bring peace, but a sword.” He’s coming to cut through that false peace, the lies, to give shalom. Taking a stand brings a sword. Speaking the truth will bring you into conflict with the lies our world embraces. Just try it: Go out and say that every life is precious and sacred, from conception to natural death . . . See the reaction you get from other people. Say that human sexuality is a gift of God to be enjoyed in the context of marriage between a man and a woman . . . What response will you get? Proclaim in any sense that there is an absolute right and wrong to the universe and that some actions bring life and joy and that others bring death and destruction . . . And watch the sparks start flying.
Our world is comfortable with its lies, but for real peace to take root, the lies must first be challenged and revealed for what they are. And that conflict, that sword which Jesus brings, brings true peace, shalom.
When we confront the lies of the world that we accept without challenging, we find out that, ultimately, things aren’t how they’re supposed to be in our relationship with God. We discover that we’ve done things we shouldn’t have, and we’ve said things we know we shouldn’t have. And sometimes, the things that own us are because we didn’t act, didn’t do that thing we should have, or we had that moment when we should have spoken and we kept quiet.
There is simply no peace in our world, our relationships, or in ourselves. And we extend that to our thoughts about God. How could God love someone as broken as I am? And that’s the greatest lie of all. That somehow we’ve done too much bad or said too little for God to love us. That somehow we’ve pushed it one too many times, and this time there can’t be peace. That we are too fundamentally broken even to begin to make peace with God.
And the real problem is that there’s truth in that. We can’t make peace with God. We try, and we fall so far short. And so some of us settle for the false peace where we just ignore the whole thing, though underneath it all we know it’s not really peace at all.
But here’s where the sword cuts: God Loves Us Too Much to Leave Us with a False Peace. So instead, God makes real peace with us. He sent his Son to this world of skinned knees and broken hearts not just to bring a sword and cut through the false peace this world seeks, but to establish real shalom with us.
The Son, Christ Jesus, fell on the sword he brings: he took the nails, the spear, the death of the cross. He took on himself all those reasons we were anything but at peace with God and are at anything but real peace with those around us.
Now he calls us by name in Baptism, and week after week he feeds us with Christ’s body broken and his blood poured out. We do not have to be good enough, worthy enough, or able enough to make peace with God, because God has already made peace with us.
So now when we confront the lies, something remarkable happens. You may have heard the phrase “the elephant in the room” to talk about an uncomfortable reality of which everyone’s aware but which no one wants to discuss. In 2009, the UK artist Banksy staged an exhibit in California that brought the metaphor to life. Taking a warehouse space, he set up a living room, complete with decorative wallpaper and a young couple portrayed by actors. In the middle of this scene, he introduced an elephant, painted to look like the surrounding wallpaper. For several days, the young actors attempted to go about the business of day-to-day life together while trying to ignore the elephant.
False peace can be the elephant in the room for us too. That’s why Jesus said he did not come to bring peace—that kind of peace—but a sword (Mt 10:34). Once a problem is acknowledged, though, we’re able to confront it and deal with it in a way through which Christ brings his true peace, true shalom.
When we lovingly deal with the things we’re brushing aside and hiding from, everyone involved is set free. We exchange a false peace for the true shalom Christ gives. Amen.