July 11, 2011 - Memorial of Saint Benedict, abbot

Today's Readings

Do Jesus' words today surprise you? “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword.” It just does not sound like the Jesus in all the pictures that I saw as a child. He always seems so peaceful. The pictures must have gotten things very wrong.

It is worse than that. This does not even seem like the Jesus of the Gospels who says “Blessed are the peacemakers” and himself said “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” In one place we see Jesus bringing peace, and in the other he says that he has not come to bring peace. There is no contradiction here. “Peace” has different meanings.

Peace, at the most basic level, is the absence of disagreement, but types of peace differ based on why people are not disagreeing. There is the “Let’s agree to disagree” kind of peace, based on tolerance. You do what you want, and I do what I want. So long as no one is actively, physically hurting another person, who are we to tell them what to do? In contrast to this peace, there is another peace: peace based on truth. With this peace, there is no fighting because everyone actually agrees and is working toward the same goal.  

The first type of peace is the foundation of modern democratic society, perhaps the most peaceful civilization that has ever lived, yet in the midst of this peace there remains so much violence. The second type of peace is the foundation of the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus is telling us today that he has not come to establish the first kind of peace. He will not agree to disagree.

Consider the case of abortion. The peace of tolerance tells us to stop fighting abortion, to stop making it such a central political issue. The modern people would like to see a compromise, a peace treaty between the pro-life and pro-choice people. The peace of truth tells us that there can be no peace while 42 million children are murdered each year. Truth tells us to fight until there is peace. Jesus came not to bring the peace of tolerance but the sword of truth. The sword of truth is not a sword of violence. Violent resistance has its place, but we will never have real peace until everyone believes the truth.