Put Down Your Sword
Sermon recorded on Facebook Live
Looking for inspiration and a chance for an interactive sermon,
I asked on Facebook if any of you had questions about faith.
John (a member at Bonneyville) responded with an excellent question and it provided enough fodder for thought that I thought we could use all our time talking about it.
If you think of any questions, or comments,
feel free to write them in the comment section and I will take some time to look through there and discuss what you have written.
To start let’s look at John’s question:
“Here is one that has stumped me as (I guess I am) a pacifist Christian.
Matthew 10:34. Jesus says, ‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword’. Parley this with the Angels declaration Luke 2:14 " ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’”
So what I took from this question, and correct me if I am wrong John,
was that John was trying to unpack the clear contradiction that we find in the gospels when it comes to what Jesus says about swords and what Jesus says about peace.
I turns out this isn’t the only place where we see that contradiction. I have gathered a few others. To start, we have the verses John named:
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt 10:34)
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’”
Then we have Jesus telling the disciples in Luke chapter 22:
“Let him who has no sword sell his mantle and buy one” And then the disciples said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “That’s enough.”
But then later at Jesus' arrest, when Peter uses the sword that Jesus told him to have, it says: "One of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear” (Luke 22:50)
Then Jesus heals the man’s ear and says, ‘Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52)
We also have these verses about peacemaking:
If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, you should not retaliate but turn the other cheek (Matthew 4:39)
Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God (Matthew 5:9) and
Matthew 5:43-44 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
This is like gospel whiplash. No wonder the disciples were always confused. Jesus tells them that he is bringing a sword, tell them to gather swords, and then when an appropriate moment comes to use a sword, Jesus rebukes them and heals the one who is wounded, saying that those who live by the sword will die by the sword.
What does all of this mean?
Was Jesus being figurative, sarcastic, literal? Is it only okay if Jesus wields the sword?
There is this story from when I was little, maybe two or three, I was sitting on my dad’s lap, watching dad and mom and some of their friends play cards. At one point I picked up one of the cards and bent it in half. Dad said to me, “No Mariah, don’t bend the cards.” I didn’t do it again, but then when I saw dad shuffle, I said, “Only daddy can bend the cards?”
So maybe the disciples were thinking? Only Jesus can wield the sword?
Or maybe Jesus was talking about using the sword only when there is a strong enough justification, like a sort of righteous violence. Perhaps like the foundation for concepts like just war.
Let’s go back to our first text, when Jesus says that he doesn’t come to bring peace but a sword, and look at its surrounding context. Right before our verse we read: “Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. Then it names the apostles.
Jesus tells them to go to the lost sheep of Israel, proclaim the good news. The kingdom of heaven has come near. Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.
Then he goes on to say he is sending them out as sheep among wolves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to council and flog you in their synagogues…brother will betray brother...you will be hated by all because of my name. When they persecute you, flee to the next town…Don’t be afraid, all the hairs on your head are counted…Then we get to verse 34: for I did not come to bring peace…
Then directly afterward, verses 35-39 read:
“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; and one’s foes will be those of one’s own household. Whoever loves father and mother more than me is not worthy of me…and those who do not take their own cross and follow me are not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who love their life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:35-39
Jesus is saying all this to a group of disciples, he is calling them and sending them out to do his work. He is warning them of the trials they might encounter, of the physical suffering they might have to endure, as well as the potential for division in their family.
Sword, here, could be a figure of speech meaning division. Luke 12: 51 “Do you think that I have come to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, I have come instead to bring division.”
Jesus is making it clear that the disciples will be giving up everything if they are going to follow him. They must leave family behind—they must care enough about the mission that they can bring themselves to abandon their own family. Jesus message is radical, divisive. Not everyone will understand or believe what Jesus is saying. This is a cross that the disciples must bear if they are to follow him.
It might be helpful here to also examine what Jesus meant when he said “peace.” You see, during this day, there was this concept called Pax Romana, or Roman peace. The Roman authorities prided themselves for leading a peace-filled nation. Peace, in this case, was earned through dominating enemies. If you subdue those who wish to harm you, you can bring peace to your people. If you are strong enough, no one can threaten you. This is peace through force.
The problem was this “peace” was only an illusion. It ignored those who were suffering under this regime. Rome occupied other nations and peoples, and “peacefully” allowed them to continue, under their rule. That was the reality for the Jewish people of this time. They were colonized. There was no war, but we know that there were still threats, executions, murder, death—the price paid to maintain peace.
So maybe here, Jesus meant the peace of Pax Romana, the status quo. You best believe that Jesus was going to disrupt the reigning order. He didn’t come to bow down before other authorities, he came to turn tables. As a character from a Flannery O’Connor story put it,
‘Jesus thrown everything off balance.’
It would be nice if there was a different word for peace that Jesus could have used to distinguish which type of peace he was talking about. Like today, within the scope of peace, there is a difference between nonviolence, non-confrontation, peace building, passivism, non-resistant, etc.
As one author put it, in regards to what Jesus is saying here, “Peace is not so much absence of conflict as it is the resolution of conflict. Peace for Jesus of the Gospels is a way of life. It is a way of non-resistance, in the sense of not fighting back against those who do harm to you. Which is not the same as non-confrontation.”
Jesus’ peace is a holistic peace.
When he heals someone he says, “go in peace”. When he was trying to comfort the grieving disciples he says, “peace be with you.” This holistic sense of peace is not new to the Jewish people.
We tend to draw a line in the bible and say that Hebrew Scripture is full of violence and then out of nowhere Jesus comes and is full of peace and love. That’s not really the case. Jesus’ sense of peace here is the Jewish notion of Shalom; total wholeness, completion, well-being. This is an old notion of peace.
However, this sense of shalom does not necessarily just exist in the world, certainly not when your people are occupied by the Roman government and military. This shalom comes through healing, through mercy, through justice, through teaching, through blessing. This was the work of Jesus.
One of the times Jesus was the most clear about his mission on earth, was when he was reading from the Torah in the temple. Luke 4: 18-19 reads: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
So, did Jesus come bringing easy peace? Status quo peace? No, if that were the case I don’t think he would have been executed. A preference for the poor, the captives, the blind, the oppressed—that is messy business. That is hard peace, costly peace.
If we paint Jesus as the happy-go-lucky, peace guy, we whitewash the mess, the suffering, the struggle against injustice. I know I am guilty of trying to smooth the rough edges of Jesus, to make him more palatable.
As Jaqueline Grant said, “Though he was born in a stable, he has been made royal—he’s King of Kings; though he was a Jew, all traces of his Jewishness have been effectively erased for all intents and purposes; though he died the common death of a criminal, we’ve erased the agony, suffering and pain, in the interest of creating a "comfortable Jesus.” When Jesus says that he came to bring a sword, we get uncomfortable because we don’t know exactly what the “Prince of Peace” means by that statement. Being a real Christian sometimes makes us uncomfortable because we can’t control God/Jesus—we can’t contain God, for God is everywhere—and cannot be contained.”
I don’t think Jesus was giving us license to go out and commit vigilante justice, in fact I think he would have condemned that, healing where bullet wounds pierce skin.
Rather, I think Jesus was preparing his friends for the hard times that were coming. He was telling them that this discipleship, justice, healing, business was difficult work. Those who benefit from the status quo react negatively when it is disturbed. There was going to be push-back.
There might need to be division to make space for a new order to break in. An order of wholeness, equality, justice, mercy. For, as Jesus said himself, the kingdom of God is near. Jesus’ reign is now. A reign where brokenness wins, a reign where peace and love are the hardest things we will ever have to do, in our whole lives.
Jesus’ love is not simple affection, not warm fuzzy feelings, it is unconditional, selfless, forgiving, merciful, and shame free. Jesus’ peace is not a fake calm, it is not taking the easy path. It is strategy, nonconformity, and perseverance. It is turning tables and speaking truth to power. It is being unwilling to accept that someone was murdered for going for a run.
This reminds me, oddly enough, of a show that Nick and I have enjoyed called the Dragon Prince. In it you find a young boy whose father, the king, was killed—leaving him to take the crown. There is one scene where a prince from a neighboring town—who also lost his father--is trying to convince this young king, Ezran, to take up arms and seek vengeance. This is what Ezran says in response:
Ezran: "I’m just a kid. I haven’t fought in any battles. I haven’t read many books of wisdom.
I haven’t gone through the things that made my father the king he was. So I’ve decided that I don’t have to be the king my father was. My father made choices to keep fighting battles that started hundreds of years before he was born. To punish enemies for crimes their parents committed! I don’t want to be that kind of king.Katolis (that’s their city) will not go to war. I’m sorry about what happened to your father, and what happened to mine. But we don’t have to avenge them. We don’t have to strike back.
We can choose peace."
Then Ezran’s advisor says to him:
"Peace will require just as much strength as war. Are you prepared to defend it?"
And Ezran says:
"Yes. I am."
May we have the strength to wield peace as our weapon, one that may divide, but will ultimately save and heal.
 “Jesus of the Gospels and the Christian Vision of Shalom: EBSCOhost. Pg 61, 62”
“Anatomy of a Sermon: A Sermon on Matthew 10:34-42 (Proper 8 Series A) By Jo...,” n.d.;
Philip Yancey, “Jesus’ Sword: Longing for Peace in Tumultuous Times,” Christianity Today 47, no. 1 (January 2003): 80–80;
Marius Nel, “‘Not Peace but a Sword’: Jesus and the Sword in Matthew,” Neotestamentica 49, no. 2 (2015): 235–59; John Dalrymple, “Not Peace but the Sword,” The Way 26, no. 1 (January 1986): 4–13.