In Matthew 10:34 Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
This is one of those perplexing saying of Jesus that often gets swept under the rug because it doesn’t fit with the kind, loving, gentle and meek persona of Jesus that many people associate with the Jesus of Christianity. The real Jesus was a scrappy, subversive, radical and dangerous person, and was public enemy #1 to religion and the state. Jesus infuriated the religious established, turned over tables in the temple, and would not bow down to the worldly powers and authorities of his day.
I wrote in Notes from (Over) the Edge:
“People often envision Jesus as someone tiptoeing around in a flowing robe, speaking softly, and carrying a baby lamb in his arms. But the real Jesus of history was a lightning rod. He got angry. He was the greatest debunker of religious hierarchies and traditions, and the greatest desacralizer of holy places, times, people, rituals, priests and things, that this world has ever seen. The religious establishment hurriedly condemned him to death for blasphemy, while the secular powers executed him for sedition.”
And in Inner Anarchy:
“In Matthew 23, Jesus delivers a scathing rebuke of the religious establishment in the form of seven woes and throws in a few nasty terms to describe the practitioners for good measure. He condemned these self-proclaimed “men of God” for operating with a false, baseless claim of divine authority. He characterizes their entire religious operation as a spiritually dead and bankrupt farce, led by frauds and swindlers.”
Jesus wasn’t Mr. Nice Guy. Here’s why. Jesus clearly recognized that the world and its people were enslaved and held hostage to a power that needed to be struck down. That power existed in the form of a false belief, mindset, and narrative that separated people from God and one another. Driven by ego and self-interest, some had learned to manipulate people with these false mindsets and ideologies to oppress the masses and benefit the few, namely the institutions of religion and the state who often worked in tandem to keep the racket going.
Jesus came onto the scene and proclaimed that another world and society was possible, and that it already existed in the heart of humankind. He referred to it as “the kingdom of heaven” – the reality of peace, freedom, harmony and well-being. Jesus taught that this kingdom within could be lifted up out ourselves and made real in the world. It first requires one to dethrone those ruling beliefs, mindsets, narratives and ideologies within themselves and connect with that deeper source within them, and then give expression to that inner reality through are words, actions and relationships in the world.
In terms of the outer expression of our inner work, there are two sides of it. With our left hand we divest ourselves from whatever shape or form those falsehoods have taken in our world, and with our right hand we lift up, live and demonstrate the alternative. Once you do your inner work, you begin recognizing that many of the foundational systems and structures of our world are based upon and operating from those false beliefs, mindsets, narratives and ideologies. You start becoming aware of how they oppress people in countless ways, and stand in the way of their liberation and that “kingdom of heaven” within us all.
Which brings me to Matthew 10:34 and Jesus saying, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” We know Jesus words here do not mean that he was advocating violence and bloodshed. There are several occasions when Jesus makes this explicitly clear, and times when he backs down his followers who are on the brink of taking up arms against the establishment. However, it was clear that Jesus understood that there would be distress and conflict in the birthing of the “kingdom of heaven on earth.” Why? Because there would be a clash of two kingdoms – the kingdoms of the world based on false ideologies and the kingdom of heaven within the hearts of humankind.
The old order – those false beliefs, mindsets, narratives and ideologies and the systems and structures of our world based on them – are not going to go quietly into the night. What Jesus meant by his words in Matthew 10:34 is, “Don’t think I’ve come to make life cozy.” There will be conflict, there will be division, there will be confrontation, there will be distress, there will be instability, and it’s not always going to be pretty. When tectonic plates start shifting there turbulence. That is what the “sword” represents. We can see the reality of this in the life that Jesus lived and it will also be true in our lives.
How do we navigate this turbulence of the “sword”? That’s the subject of my next post.