Wow! Some tough stuff here.
Jesus is talking in pretty strong terms about dividing families, condemning whole towns and even a “wicked and adulterous generation”. Not, at first glance, the man who preached about peacemakers and the meek on that mount.
However, let’s take a step back. Is Jesus being a hellfire and damnation preacher here? Is he all “repent or be damned”, or is there another purpose to his words?
I’ve been involved in a bit of a spat in the last 24 hours on Twitter with my local MP. Someone made a sarcastic reply to one of his tweets and his response was to insult him using a (relatively mild) swearword. I took exception to this and questioned whether, as a paid representative, this was an appropriate thing to do. My reward was to be accused of small mindedness, as well as being an “angry and mad Christian Socialist”.
My reaction was to rant a bit about it on Twitter and Facebook. Over a few hours.
I’ll admit that, whilst I was not totally over the top, my reaction was not the graceful response I feel it could, or should have been. I’m still unhappy at the whole event, but I’m not too proud of how I took it.
What I should have done was shaken the dust off my feet and walked away. I tried to get through that it was wrong, it fell on resistant ears, so I should have left it and forgot about it. I didn’t, which is a lesson for me to learn.
I do, however, think most people would have reacted in a similar way. And this is part of the crux of the matter. Jesus is calling us to a different way, one which will end up alienating some of those we love because it’s a difficult thing to accept. Some are called to jobs or places far from home, or which friends and family can’t understand. All are called to react to the world in a way which the world does not understand and cannot accept.
Mine was a very mild example, and not one which would alienate loved ones. My friends and family have been supportive, for which I’m grateful, but I should have let go sooner. I didn’t, and I’m sorry.
Letting go is a difficult thing to do, but Jesus asks us to do it all the time. He asks us to let go of things we’d rather keep, but in doing so we are putting him first. It’s a hard thing to do, but the right thing. The early church wasn’t known as The Way for nothing. By putting him before everything and everyone else we are stepping closer to living the life we were made to live. A life of fulfilment, love and peace. To live any other way leaves a gaping hole in our lives and in our soul.
This is what Jesus meant. By bringing a sword, he is cutting off those who reject him. By saying “woe to you”, he is showing people that turning their backs on him hurts them in a fundamental way, purely by separating themselves from the Father.
It doesn’t have to be a permanent separation, though. Yesterday, he called his disciples to gather in the harvest. That’s what he asks his followers to do, still. There is always time to repent, to return, to change your heart and mind.
He will never give up.