In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says these strange words:
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace on 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 a man’s foes will be those of his own household” (Matt. 10:34-35).
Why would Jesus say this when he speaks constantly of peace and is constantly blessing people with peace? Isn’t he the one who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God?” (Matt. 5:9).
How can we reconcile these things?
We get a hint of how to reconcile them in John’s Gospel when Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you” (John 14:27). The peace that Jesus gives is not like the “peace” that the world gives.
Consider the Pax Romana—the great Roman age of peace in which he lived. It was a false peace insofar as keeping it required horrific brutality and constant injustice. Clearly, this is not the kind of peace Jesus wants for his people. He has come to bring a peace rooted in truth and love; but this new ethic will cause friction with those who promote the Roman kind of peace. Thus, he has come to bring “the sword,” in the sense that great division will erupt as a consequence of his teaching.
To understand the kind of peace he does want, we must turn to the Hebrew scriptures, which are, in a certain sense, a thousand-year exploration of the source of true peace. For example, 700 years before Jesus, speaking of the consequences of unfaithfulness to God, the prophet Micah wrote, “For the son belittles his father, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, and your enemies are members of your household. But as for me, I will look to the LORD, I will wait for God my savior” (Mic. 7:6-7).
Clearly, in the words recorded in Matthew that we read above, Jesus is referring to this passage. He wants us to refer to Micah when we consider his own words about peace. And, indeed, Micah gives us a magnificent clue about the source of true peace when he says, “I will wait for God my savior.”
These words, “God my savior,” are almost a perfect translation of the name Jesus. He himself is true peace.
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