Double-edged

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34, NASB)

And behold, one of those who were with Jesus reached and drew out his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:51-52, NASB)

Okay, so which is it? I think a lot of people have chosen to take one or the other of those quotes to heart, and that’s part of the problem.

Some folks have gotten really hung up on that first passage, and are only too happy to bring a sword with them everywhere they go. These are the ones who make trouble for the sake of it, the ones who protest at funerals. They can be seen on the news, doing other similarly mean-spirited, boneheaded things in the name of faith. I think their math is something like "Jesus Christ upset some people, so I’m Christlike to the degree that I rub people the wrong way."

That’s a cop-out, of course. It takes about five minutes with the Gospels to know that Jesus wouldn’t be crazy about His teachings being used to justify hate, fear, exclusion, or even just rudeness. It’s time to stop beating people up with the Bible and start reading it instead.

So we read that first quote; we need it, in fact. Without it, it’s too easy to misread that second passage as justification for all kinds of dysfunctional behavior. You’ve seen that done, I bet. You’ve seen it every time somebody used spirituality as an excuse for inaction. You’ve seen it when the "what you resist, persists" axiom has been misused to enforce silence and blame victims. You’ve seen it in any teachings that portray Jesus’ admonition to love, and Jesus Himself, as a doormat.

But that’s not Jesus Christ. That’s not what He did or said. So which quote is right? Which is it? It’s both, of course. That’s why He made both statements.

Jesus Christ taught radical love and outrageous mercy. His example, the one we are invited to follow, is no-holds-barred, all-the way faith. That kind of life means saying goodbye to a lot of old concepts, unlearning a lot of hurtful conclusions. This process is rough in direct proportion to how hard we hold on to the things we’re meant to outgrow. Some people identify with their dysfunctions; for them, growing up can feel like an existential death.

But Easter morning comes for all of us, just as it did for Him. It’s okay if we feel like grieving sometimes. The old version of ourselves that we’re mourning needed to go, though. Life is too big, too beautiful, too awesome for us to be carrying that old baggage any more. It can’t come along. And that’s the sword that the Truth brings. Jesus did not come, and we are not here, to make it okay. He came to heal, and that’s why we are here too. These teachings don’t enable us to live with a crutch, literal or otherwise. They help us to run. Just like they say at the gym, sometimes pain is just weakness leaving the body.

Pain is not the point, however. If you’re looking for trouble, you’re not doing what you’ve been taught. If you set yourself up to be a slayer of dragons, a vanquished of bad guys, you will never run out of them. But you already know that. Don’t seek the battle. Look for the love. But remember, love stands up. That’s the balance.