There’s so much conflict in the world. Everywhere. Globally, between nations, within nations, in communities, between individuals, even within individuals. So much conflict. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if there could just be peace?
Of course it would. And, though it might not feel like it lately, there are moments, many moments. But peace can’t be imposed, it has to be built and to build it is a long journey of engagement, with empathy and understanding overtaking apathy and fear. Peace doesn’t just happen, it’s made.
I think that’s what Jesus is getting at when he says things like “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword …” and that he’s come to set family members against each other (Matt. 10:34-36). I don’t for a moment think Jesus is advocating hostility or violence, but acknowledging there will be conflict on the journey to peace. The question is whether or not we make that conflict constructive or destructive.
It sure seems like we’re good at destruction. Defensiveness and hate come easily with fear and ignorance. Having power over others is a simpler means to an end, however that power is manifested, and with the right power, what one person wants can overwhelm what others need. Difference can turn to disagreement that turns to a battle full of hateful words, destructive behaviour and damaging consequences and the possibility of peace seems extinguished. But there’s another way.
In that same passage from Matthew, Jesus goes on to say that those who choose to put their own family ahead of me, Jesus, those that are comfortable with things as they are and don’t want to rock the boat and those that are unwilling to follow me, Jesus, will find nothing more than what they have. They won’t have the wholeness of life with me, Jesus.
But what if you read that again and instead of the name Jesus, you substituted what Jesus is all about. And, instead of the family and rocking the boat, you understood that Jesus meant the structured society and systemic injustice that maintains it. Then you’d hear Jesus making the point that there is another way to peace, to the heaven on earth that he says is so near.
That way is to engage difference and conflict with love, with empathy, respect, justice, compassion and understanding. That way is to journey together, not in competition with each other, but with care, support and encouragement. That way is to build a covenant, not negotiate a deal. A covenant in which we work together, share, and build something new: a world working towards wholeness, of people, of relationships and of community.
That’s a long journey, especially when not every one is on the same road or willing to travel the same way. I think Jesus knows that. I think Jesus knows that there will be successes and failures, joy and grief, life and death. I think Jesus also knows that the journey is always about living into life, not living towards death, and that’s where we will find wholeness. “The road goes ever on and on” - J.R.R. Tolkien.