It is startling to read it. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to hear. The Rabbi who had made a career out of bringing people in, no matter what it was that had put them out, now stands before the disciples and says, “Do you think I came to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” They didn’t even have 150 years of the Christmas Industrial Complex messing up their heads with saccharine images of radically counter-cultural events capped, without any sense of irony, with the phrase “Peace on Earth” boldly emblazoned above or below.
This idea of peace has, in many ways, become an idol for modern, western Christians. That following Jesus would mean power, privilege, and comfort is so beyond the pale of what it meant to be a disciple in the first three centuries after Christ’s resurrection that I’m not sure Jesus would have any idea what he was looking at if he met the average white, middle-class, American Christian on their way to church on a Sunday morning.
Jesus tells us that he didn’t come to bring peace to the earth. Even before he said it, we should have known. By breaking bread with notorious sinners and tax collectors, he challenged the status quo. By healing on the sabbath, he challenged the status quo. By talking with women, by challenging the religious authorities, by speaking in parables, bringing the dead back to life, and by preaching the Kingdom of God, he challenged the status quo. Everything Jesus did and said pushed against the notion that God is supposed to work for us, making our lives peaceful, and challenged future disciples to be prepared for difficulties that would come when they tried to follow his example.
Living out the Law of the Kingdom that Christ came to inaugurate means loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. It means loving your neighbor as yourself. It means laying down idols like peace, security, comfort, power, and privilege. It means putting the needs of the other ahead of your own. It means sharing with those who are in need. It means calling to account systems of oppression and degradation. I means voting based on something other than “it’s the economy, stupid.” It means shopping based on something other than the cheapest price tag. It means, as our exemplars in the faith like the Blessed Virgin Mary, Jonathan Myrick Daniels, Jeremy Taylor, Florence Nightingale, and Clare of Assisi can attest, being downright uncomfortable because the living out of our faith puts us at direct odds with the leaders of our time.
As one whose livelihood depends upon the gifts of others, I’m preaching to myself here. Peace is an idol for me because it means keeping my family fed, clothed, and housed. I’ve not always said what the Gospel would have me say or lived the way that Christ would have me live, but day-by-day, my faith grows a little stronger, my trust grows a little deeper, and the ledge feels just a little bit safer. May each of us find that place where the idol of peace can be set aside and the revolutionary Gospel of Jesus Christ can be fully proclaimed.