“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)
“I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34)
Sometimes I am confounded by the Bible. But I find it comforting that the disciples found Jesus’ teachings hard to understand as well. In what is called Jesus Farewell Discourse in the book of John, we can see the confusion of the disciples. In John 14:1 Jesus says, “Let not your heart be troubled.” Thomas asks, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (vs. 5). Then Philip says, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied” (vs. 8). Jesus continues to teach. You can almost see the disciples looking at one another in perplexity: “Then some of his disciples said to one another, ‘What does he mean by saying to us, “A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me”; and “Because I am going to the Father”?’ 18 They said, ‘What does he mean by this “a little while”? We do not know what he is talking about’” (John 16:17). Why is Jesus’ message so confusing?
Turn forward to the Book of Acts. The time after the Day of Pentecost must have been amazing. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-43). Such a wonderful time of unity and forgiveness!
And yet, already by Act 6:1, the unity has started to fade: “Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task.'”
Later on in the Book of Acts, a centurion named Cornelius requests Peter to share the gospel with him. Peter is ready to meet the Gentile. “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection” (Acts 10:28-29).
Yet later on Peter backed off from that radical vision. Paul reports, “But when Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?’” (Galatians 2:11-14). Even Peter is not above his cultural prejudices and peer pressure!
History is crowded with “holy” wars, Christians fighting other Christians. Today the strife between Christians is greater than I ever remember it in my lifetime. My friends, this ought not to be! We have been challenged again and again about our basic beliefs, about what Jesus really desires from each of us. Christians opposing Christians. Hatred, divisiveness, bitterness. My friends, this ought not to be! Until we can move past our anger, solutions will always elude us. Whatever our cultural, religious and political beliefs, we must listen to one another without judging, forgive even when we do not understand, and communicate in words full of grace.
And how do we do that? you ask. My humble answer, I don’t know. For me this has been a year of confronting my own cultural, religious and political beliefs. I have been trying to quell the despair and disgust I feel and challenging others to do the same. I don’t comprehend everything Jesus preached, but this I do know: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
Let us pray...
Shepherd me, O God
Beyond my wants
Beyond my fears
From death into life