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The Unpleasant Consequences of Taking Jesus Seriously

June 22, 2014

Matthew 10. 22-39Children-of-Parihaka

 This passage is a difficult one! And two different kinds of difficulty have been the focus of my attention as I have meditated on this text this week. The first kind of difficulty has to do with whether Jesus is consistent as a teacher. Is he contradicting himself here. And the second has to do with the practical difficulty of actually taking Jesus seriously.

 Let’s look at the apparent contradiction first. Verse 34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” That seems pretty clear. But the question is, how can he say that after he has said earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, “blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God” and then again, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ but I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer.” and then “You have heard it said ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’ but I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” How can the world’s most radical peacemaker, say he did not come to bring peace but a sword?

 As always with these kinds of things the context clarifies what might be meant here. In today’s story Jesus is sending his disciples out to the villages of Israel and he says ‘You will be hated by all because of my name’. That’s the clue! He knows that his gospel of the kingdom challenges the very foundations of the world. It’s not just unfashionable for some. What Jesus is on about is a threat to everyone. But he sends them into this world anyway, safe in the knowledge (and this may sound crazy to us) that the haters can only kill the body and God who has the power over our ultimate destiny is in fact the gracious Father counts the hairs of our head and notices even the death of a sparrow (and values each of us profoundly). In other words, the one who really matters, says Jesus, is with you when all the world is against you.

 But the point is, the immediate reception of the peacemakers, whom Jesus calls ‘children of God’ will not be a peaceful one. It’s not a peaceful life he is offering them, even if they carry his message of peace. This paradox, the catches their attention… It’s because he was known as a preacher of peace that his statement about not bringing them peace makes everyone sit up and listen. In the immediate future the life of his peacemakers will be anything but peaceful.

 For Jesus the conflict between his disciples and the world is not just an accident of circumstance. Jesus says that he comes to reveal what is hidden since the foundation of the world. In other words, this world that will hate his disciples is founded on something so pervasive that they are oblivious to it. It’s like fish, who can’t see the water. And when Jesus reveals it and introduces a different world he is not going to be welcome. He’s just going to seem irrelevant at first, or even dangerous, to those in power. Even today after 2000 years of this idea of loving enemies and the development of notions like ‘human rights’ we still know in our hearts that there is something profoundly destabilising, politically destabilising about the call to ‘love our enemies’. Nations are built on the need to hate enemies. So there is a deep paradox. Because of this hatred at the root of society… the makers of peace will not, at least initially, bring peace.

 But let’s take it down to the family level as Jesus does with his would be disciples.

 Jesus talks about conflict that even divides families because of him. Look at Jesus own relationship to his family. John 7:5 says ‘not even his brother’s believed in him’. What does that mean? Does it mean that Jesus brother’s couldn’t believe that he was the second person of the trinity? Not at all. The question of whether Jesus was divine in some way arose after the resurrection, when the brother’s began to see things in a whole new light. What his brother’s couldn’t accept or believe in was his politics. They could accept that he was the kind of Messiah he claimed to be. A Messiah who loved his enemies i.e. enemies of Israel could only be a contradiction.

 Brian Zahnd (whose book I have been reading this week – and recommend highly, its called ‘A Farewell to Mars’) says we have the same problem today. We can believe in Jesus ‘theologically, spiritually, sentimentally … but not politically. We believe Jesus is the Second Person of the Trinity, but we don’t really believe he was a competent political theologian.’

 In John 7:7 when Jesus realised that even his brother’s didn’t believe he could be the Messiah without a sword Jesus says to his brothers “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify against it, that its works are evil.”

That’s a really interesting statement…

 Brian Zahnd comments on this that its hard to imagine that Jesus brothers didn’t testify in some way about the evils of the world. They were pious Jews. James was know in the early church as ‘James the just’. But Jesus was the one who had the analysis that got him killed. Jesus was the one who testified not primarily about what might be called the symptomatic sins of the world – prostitution, tax-collection and so on – those kinds of morally and socially unacceptable social symptoms… we might say. Jesus had a focus at a completely different level. He went to the root of the problem.

 Which leads us to the deeper difficulty of this passage. The deeper difficulty is not a theoretical one, its a practical one. Do we really want to follow? Are we prepared to take him serious. Publically! Todays reading is all about Jesus disciples going public. Not simply to take seriously the idea that he is the Son of God. But to take seriously the fact that his politics are God’s politics and therefore ours also. If we just believe in him in our private lives, we won’t get into any trouble. There will be no razor blade dividing our families. To put it less dramatically than Jesus does, the profound tensions Jesus talks about will not threaten our closest relationships. We will simply live relatively comfortably in the same world everyone else lives in. But if we take Jesus seriously enough to seek to embody the kingdom (as our church mission statement puts it) well, we can’t say Jesus didn’t warn us.

 As I stand up here with these observations. It crosses my mind that one common response is to be grateful that we live in a world where Christians are not persecuted. The problem with this observation is that I fear we also live in a world where Christians have made an art of not taking Jesus’ politics seriously, a world in which the majority of those who claim to believe in Jesus seem to be oblivious to the fact that the incarnate Son of God is also the most significant political theologian the world has ever seen.

And then as I stand up here with these observations I am also aware the some of our congregation do indeed know the consequences of taking Jesus seriously. They have sought to ‘embody the kingdom’ and have felt that razor blade cut deeply into what they thought were close relationships. Blessed are you peacemakers. You are children of God.

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 22, 2014 3:21 am

    That’s a posting full of inhisgt!

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