Jesus the divider
If you ask the average person what words come to mind when you think of “Jesus”, most people, regardless of their religious or philosophical persuasions will says words like “love, peace, humility.” I find it very interesting that very few people think of Jesus as a man of war or as a divider of humanity. Either Jesus has a very good public relations network or there really is something about Jesus that lets us all know that His values are the standard by which the world is judged. As someone who longs for an end to violence and extremism, I am fascinated by Jesus’ teachings of “turn the other cheek” and “love your enemies” and “all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” If those were the only words that Jesus ever uttered, I’d still consider Him the greatest moral teacher in history because I can’t think of a higher moral ethic to live by.
And then comes the bombshell. Here is a quote from the man of peace that has baffled peace loving hippie wannabees like me for centuries.
Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a 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 a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.
At first glance I want to throw my hands up in despair. The carnal mind in me says something like this, “Come on Jesus! I really thought you were better than that. I thought you were a man of peace and now you’re telling me that you came to divide families? Isn’t there a more tolerant moral teacher out there that isn’t so divisive? No wonder there is so much war in the world. Perhaps religion is the problem.”
And then I remember the courageous Christians around the world who are kicked out of their homes, thrown out on the streets, persecuted mercilessly by their families (and in many cases, their governments) and yet they can’t seem to remove the glow on their faces and the warmth in their eyes. Those that make the ultimate sacrifice to follow Jesus may lose their fathers, their daughters, even their wives or their husbands, but their faces continue to shine because they haven’t lost the one thing that matters the most-their dignity as human beings.
I think that Jesus understood something that much of the world still does not understand to this day. Jesus understood that an essential element of human dignity is the ability to follow one’s conscience in regards to matters of faith. The ability to make a free and uncoerced decision in response to a religious truth claim is one of the primary elements of human dignity. This is why those who decide to follow Jesus despite the opposition are often some of the most joyful people in the world.
If everything that we see, touch, taste, smell, and hear will one day pass away (as the Bible and science tell us will happen) then what truly matters for the individual is not peace, safety, comfort, stability, or even procreation (after all, if there is no God eventually everything will cease to exist, including one’s descendants). All that truly matters is connecting with ultimate reality. Connecting with God should be priority number one for every human being because without God, life is meaningless.
Even if life leaves us broken, frustrated, abused, humiliated, or confused, all of us as long as we have air in our lungs and blood pumping through our veins can choose to worship the one who gave us the greatest gift of all-our existence. When we connect with God despite the cost to our temporary human relationships, we affirm the value of what separates us from the rest of the primates-our conscience.
Some may call Jesus a hopeless idealist, an egomaniac, or even a mad man. And that’s okay. People said the same thing while He was walking on earth. I, for one, choose to call Him Lord. And, because I’ve decided to follow His teachings, I’ll stand up for the rights of all who disagree. Given the rest of Jesus’s life and teachings, I think that is exactly what He would want me to do.