I’ve come to bring a sword

Third Sunday after Pentecost; 21 June 2020; Proper 7A (RCL); Genesis 21:8-21; Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17; Romans 6:1b-11; Matthew 10:24-39.

Aren’t we supposed to love an honor parents? Seems like that’s in the law somewhere. So, what does Jesus mean that whoever loves mother or father more than him is not worthy of him? What does he mean that he has not come to bring peace, but a sword?

These are hard sayings. The passage in Genesis is hard. Why would God allow Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away just because Sarah is aggrieved? The bible isn’t always a pretty book.

I think there is some irony in the reading from Matthew. Rome was claiming to bring peace to the earth. All around the empire, altars to Pax Romana were being set up. Of course, the way Rome brought peace was through its legions and their swords. If you were among the conquered, it didn’t look very much like peace.

So, Jesus includes in this statement that we are worth more than many sparrows, and God doesn’t let even one sparrow fall to the ground without taking note. All of the anguish of Rome’s conquered peoples is noted in God’s accounting.

We are in the midst of a kind of upheaval in our country. A pandemic has torn back the veil on many of the inequities in our society. ‘Essential’ workers make minimum wage, but are required to work or starve. The historical inequities in health care make black and poor populations disproportionately susceptible to this virus.

And then, in the midst of this disruption, we have all witnessed a particularly egregious example of police brutality against a black man. In the protests that have followed, we have witnessed police using excessive force in dispersing protesters, particularly when our president wanted a photo-op on the front step of damaged church.

Race has always been a tender subject in this country, and it is now being forced onto our front pages in ways we haven’t witnessed in a long time. Jesus says that sons and fathers will find themselves on opposite sides of the matter, mothers and daughters, mothers-in-laws and daughters-in-law. I am certainly finding myself in several strained relationships among my friends.

But these are conversations that must be had, difficult as they may be. I suppose one way into them is to ask, who is it that has the power not only to kill the body, but destroy the soul. Have we put our collective soul at risk all these years?

Paul says that in baptism, we have died to sin, and been buried with Christ, so that we might arise to newness of life. For Paul, sin is whatever divides us from one another, and flesh is the realm of sin. Flesh is the realm in which distinctions are made: slave and free, Jew and Greek, circumcised and not, male and female. So we might easily add, black and white. Dying, or better, being crucified to that distinction doesn’t mean pretending to ignore it, but doing the hard and painful work of putting it to death, so that we might rise into newness of life.

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