‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 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 members of one’s own household. 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; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. ‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.’
Are you rather taken aback by today’s reading? There seems little here of the Sunday school “gentle Jesus meek and mild”! Instead we have the image of a revolutionary bringing about discord in society and even within families.
It was a popular notion in Jewish belief that when the Messiah came, he would bring peace on earth. Whilst this would be the ultimate goal, Jesus wants to shock his listeners out of a false sense of complacency. Jesus could see that his preaching of the Way, and indeed of peace, will be rejected by many and would, ironically, be the cause of conflict.
How do we see the blunt, stark challenge that Jesus poses in these words for us today? Is there a sense that, like Jesus’ Jewish “chosen people” contemporaries, we too can easily settle into a comfortable “ticking along” religion?
Also, there is perhaps a further fundamental challenge that Jesus raises here which goes to the heart of the conflict within the human condition: born into this world and creatures of the flesh, whilst also being of the spirit and made in the image of God. As such we are torn between being drawn to the things of this world on the one hand, and the greater goal of striving for the kingdom of God on the other. The key to this passage pivots upon the repeated phrase to be” worthy “of Jesus. What does it mean to be worthy of Jesus, worthy of the peace he brings and worthy to receive it? It may entail significant sacrificing of the material life of this world, even “to be separated from those you love most, and even life itself” (Fenton).
Sometimes the most vital choices in life are not between extreme alternatives of good and evil, but rather between the good enough and the best.
Loving … and challenging Christ I know I fall short of being worth of you, and the salvation you bring. When I lose myself in the things of this life: rekindle my spirit; restore my focus; bring me back home. Amen.
Professor Graham Handscomb Member of Christ Church URC Chelmsford