The Decision

‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 
For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own 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 the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

 

—Matthew 10:34-39

 

In this passage from Matthew’s gospel, Jesus does not pull any punches. The belligerent Prince of Peace is on a roll. Having called the Twelve, instructed the masses, he, now, commissions the disciples, charging them to go and spread the news of his radical and transformative kingdom. The message at the heart of that kingdom, Jesus realizes, will cause considerable controversy, controversy he seems happy to provoke having “come not to bring peace but a sword.” That sword is a challenge, a challenge to everything we hold dear and to every assumption we resist examining. To symbolize the very controversy and questioning rigor required of and caused by his message, Jesus marks that most precious of places as the very site of his message’s most certain affect—the family.

If anything would be assumed to be so sacred to be spared the tumult of his challenge, if anything would be assumed to be safe from ridicule and examination and question and evaluation, it is the family. After all, families seem to be the most fundamental of our relationships, the most sacred of our connections, the most certain of our foundations, the most precious of our possessions. However, it is precisely because of family’s fundamental nature and sacredness and certainty and preciousness that family serves as the perfect example and target of Jesus’ reordering message.

Family needs to be questioned because we often assume it is beyond reproach and beyond criticism and beyond examination because, after all, who is not in favor of family. Yet, Jesus understands his message to be precisely so penetrating and transformative that no assumptions are beyond reappraisal and reordering, especially those assumptions we assume need no reappraisal and reordering. In fact, it is precisely what we think we know definitively that needs the most reworking. And, Jesus recognizes that if we come to understand that even our most preciously held convictions and institutions are up for radical reworking as the very work of this coming kingdom, then nothing is off the table, nothing is too sacred to be ignored or protected or assumed or dismissed or taken for granted.

Faith, it turns out, is a completely penetrating, completely reevaluating, completely redefining, completely renewing practice. If family is on the table, what isn’t.

My assumptions—our assumptions—about family and sexuality and marriage and war and peace and faith and life and death and economics and creation and race and gender and propriety and impropriety and virtue and vice and friends and enemies and government and structures and certainties and uncertainties all seem to be on the table. How can they not be? How can I read the above text from Matthew and not assume that no assumptions are safe?

This certain of uncertainty might prove problematic.

Such regular, reflexive churning has the potential to bring about uncertainty and instability and chaos. Is such a potentiality defined by uncertainty, instability, and chaos commendable; is it even survivable?

Interestingly, that potentiality does not seem to concern the gospel writer. The writer appears less interested in the certainties of the moment than in a confidence in the transformative value of the journey. In the gospel, over and over again, the disciples and Jesus do not rest nor do they stay put for long. They are always on the move, always relocating. Moreover, there is urgency in their movements.

The one constant seems to be the lives and journey they share with each other. Their constancy is the fact that they stay connected to each other even while those connections evolve. The message of the kingdom is one of developing the skills necessary to always reexamine and relocate while maintaining connections that are fluid yet stable. Only with the well-practiced skills of adaptation and reevaluation will the disciples be capable of making the protracted and evolving journey required of the kingdom.

I regularly try to remind myself of this declaration by Jesus, to remind myself that there is nothing that is too sacred to be beyond both the reach and renewal of God’s faithful love. There is rarely an hour of a given day that I do not question a presumed certainty or internally challenge a personal conviction. (Sometimes, it can be hell to be in my head.) Recently, I had a conversation with someone who surmised that I was the most self-reflective person he had ever met, and I don’t think he meant it as a compliment. Yet, he may be right. I do spend a lot of time in my head reappraising and reexamining. He gets no argument from me there.

However, such a practice, while potentially destabilizing, seems to be the very essence of what Matthew’s Jesus requires of us. The journey of faith always seems to be a willingness to walk away from one place to reach another, reassessing and reevaluating along the way. That might be what Jesus means when he says that “[t]hose who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” We regularly need to lose ourselves in our pursuit of God, in our journey of faith. Such a willingness to be lost means gaining both a comfort with uncertainty and a humble willingness to assume we might not be right and to ask for help when we do not know where we are. Both those skills seem essential to faith that is filled with mystery and that includes a need to give up ourselves and our immovable convictions that might keep us stagnant and stuck while the band of the faithful have moved on to another point along the road of faith.

I am sure that is right. However, let me think it over. In the meantime, get moving. And, see you along the way.

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