Today: Thursday, January 23, 2020

Peace or Violence?    (5/26/2019 )

It was a government official who said recently, that Christianity must be a violent religion because Jesus said, “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”  Many Christians were quick to challenge that - of course it’s not a violent religion, they replied, and Jesus never advocated anything but peace.

So how could they claim that, and what did Jesus mean by those puzzling words?

First of all, it’s important to realise that Jesus often used hyperbole - that is using exaggerated language to make an impact or to be memorable.  For instance when Jesus talked about a camel going through the eye of a needle, it was a joke - of course it’s utterly impossible.

But a sword is no joke, nor is what he was talking about.  When you look at the passage where these words are recorded (Matthew 10, verse 34), you quickly realise that Jesus is not talking about going to war with anybody.  He is talking about the challenging effect he has, and will have, on families and friends.  He does bring peace, but it is not an easy peace, but one that can divide families, setting children and parents against each other because of their different responses to the challenge of Jesus.

The point is that not everyone will accept him.  There will be rejection, misunderstanding, even to the point of hatred and betrayal (see verses like Matthew 10: 21).  It will be like a sword of division.

But those verses also make it clear that Jesus is not for one moment saying that anyone should take a sword and attack their attackers.  He says things like - Don’t worry!  Look out!  Run away! Don’t be afraid!

There is another significant moment in the story of Jesus when swords are mentioned.  When Jesus was about to be arrested, a great crowd came to the quiet orchard where he was praying, “armed with swords and clubs” (Matthew 26:47).  At that point, one of Jesus’ followers pulled out a sword to defend him and injured one of the crowd.  Jesus immediately responded with the command - “Put your sword away!  Those who take the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).  The sword was not his weapon, nor was violence his response.

Jesus himself, of course, faced violence.  There was a moment when he was nearly stoned to death (John 8:59).  In the end he faced the extreme violence of Roman punishment - scourging and crucifixion.  But at no point did he advocate a violent uprising in his defence.

That strand of non-violence has often put Christians in a position of apparent weakness, as it still does in some parts of the world today.  Sometimes, quite understandably, they have responded in self-defence.  Either way, for followers of the Prince of Peace, aggression is not an option.

What we still have to face is how to explain the actions of Christians who have taken up arms and fought wars in the name of Christ and the Church.  We hope to look at that next time.

Lord Jesus, you bring both comfort and discomfort, peace and challenge.  Help me to receive your peace and to be ready to face its challenges.

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