Monday, July 13, 2009

I Have Not Come To Bring Peace, But The Sword!

Exodus 1:8-14, 22
A new king, who knew nothing of Joseph, came to power in Egypt.
He said to his subjects, "Look how numerous and powerful
the people of the children of Israel are growing, more so than we ourselves!
Come, let us deal shrewdly with them to stop their increase;
otherwise, in time of war they too may join our enemies
to fight against us, and so leave our country."
Accordingly, taskmasters were set over the children of Israel
to oppress them with forced labor.
Thus they had to build for Pharaoh
the supply cities of Pithom and Raamses.
Yet the more they were oppressed,
the more they multiplied and spread.
The Egyptians, then, dreaded the children of Israel
and reduced them to cruel slavery,
making life bitter for them with hard work in mortar and brick
and all kinds of field work—the whole cruel fate of slaves.
Pharaoh then commanded all his subjects,
"Throw into the river every boy that is born to the Hebrews,
but you may let all the girls live."

Matthew 10:34 – 11:1
Jesus said to his Apostles:
"Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth.
I have come to bring not peace but the sword.
For I have come to set
a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one's enemies will be those of his household.
"Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me,
and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;
and whoever does not take up his cross
and follow after me is not worthy of me.
Whoever finds his life will lose it,
and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
"Whoever receives you receives me,
and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.
Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet
will receive a prophet's reward,
and whoever receives a righteous man
because he is righteous
will receive a righteous man's reward.
And whoever gives only a cup of cold water
to one of these little ones to drink
because he is a disciple–
amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward."

When Jesus finished giving these commands to his Twelve disciples,
he went away from that place to teach and to preach in their towns.

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During his recent trip abroad for the G-8 summit, President Obama visited the city of Istanbul, formerly known as Constantinople, then and now the see city of the Patriarch of the East. Saint John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople once had this to say about the purpose of the President’s visit, to seek peace among nations. “More than anything, this is peace: when the disease is removed; when the cancer is cut away.”

At Christmastide, we celebrate the birth of Jesus in scripture and in song. “Joy to the world”, “Peace on earth, good will to me”, “Glad tidings of comfort and joy”. But in today’s Gospel, the Savior speaks in a very different tone, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but the sword.” Surely, the Prince of Peace has not come to encourage violence and oppression, which burdens the powerless until all resistance has vanished. Throughout the history of the world, there have been nations that conquer and absorb smaller and weaker nations to build their own hegemony (political domination over other nations). And we cannot forget that similar situations exist in families, when parents exaggerate the notion of “spare the rod, spoil the child”, or a husband bullies his wife, or a wife belittles her husband.

Yet, there is an even more terrible statement in today’s gospel. In our translation, it reads, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.” The Revised Standard Version (Catholic edition) comes much closer to the meaning of the Greek original: “Anyone who prefers father or mother to me is not worthy of me.” The English word “prefer” derives from the Latin praeferre “to place ahead of”. We ought not place other people ahead of Christ. That would not be fair to them. For one thing, it would be too much of a burden for them to bear.

Jesus then reminds the disciples of the cost of following in his footsteps: If your goal in life is centered on yourself, you run the risk of losing eternal life: but if you lose your life for the sake of the gospel, you will gain eternal life.

And finally, a more day to day lesson of the rewards of discipleship: Welcome prophets because they are prophets; welcome righteous persons because they are righteous; be generous to children and to the poor (‘little ones’ has a double meaning) and you will be richly rewarded , because you are a follower of Jesus. Your path might not lead to martyrdom, but there is no way to get to the gates of the Heavenly Kingdom except by following in His footsteps.

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