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The Sword of Division
Gospel Reflection for July 2, 2023 - Matthew 10:37-42
He is not worthy of me, that loves father or mother more; he is not worthy of me, that loves son or daughter more;
he is not worthy of me, that does not take up his cross and follow me.
He who secures his own life will lose it; it is the man who loses his life for my sake that will secure it.
He who gives you welcome, gives me welcome too; and he who gives me welcome gives welcome to him that sent me.
He who gives a prophet the welcome due to a prophet shall receive the reward given to prophets; and he who gives a just man the welcome due to a just man shall receive the reward given to just men.
And if a man gives so much as a draught of cold water to one of the least of these here, because he is a disciple of mine, I promise you, he shall not miss his reward. (Matthew 10:37-42 Knox Translation)
Though they are not included in this Sunday’s Gospel reading, the preceding three verses help give more context: “Do not imagine that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have come to bring a sword, not peace. I have come to set a man at variance with his father, and the daughter with her mother, and the daughter-in-law with her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies will be the people of his own house.” (Mt 10:34-36)
These verses, taken together, also help to provide context for a parallel and more controversial commandment in St. Luke’s Gospel: “If any man comes to me, without hating his father and mother and wife and children and brethren and sisters, yes, and his own life too, he can be no disciple of mine.” (Lk 14:26) The word “hate” indicates, in the light of St. Matthew’s version, that we are to love Christ above all others, even those most dear to us.
While Our Lord explicitly mentions family members, He also implies friends, superiors in law or work, and even our possessions and afflictions, whose temptations provide the cross which we are to “take up” and follow Him. If we love anything more than Him, we are not worthy of Him; unless we imitate His total self-giving love of the Father and our neighbor, we are not worthy of Him.
This is the revolutionary charity which causes the “sword” of division which He brought to the earth.
While we are called to be “peace-makers,” (Mt 5:9) always seeking to ameliorate conflicts and live in harmony with all, both in the Church and in society, (cf. Romans 12:16, 18) we must know that Christ concluded the same Beatitudes with this reminder: “Blessed are those who suffer persecution in the cause of right; the kingdom of heaven is theirs. Blessed are you, when men revile you, and persecute you, and speak all manner of evil against you falsely, because of me. Be glad and light-hearted, for a rich reward awaits you in heaven; so it was they persecuted the prophets who went before you.” (Mt 5:10-12)
Christ, God Himself incarnated in human likeness, totally free from all blame and intending only the salvation of all, was hounded from birth, mocked and ridiculed throughout His ministry, then finally betrayed by His own apostle, abandoned by the rest and crucified.
Why should Christians today, all of whom “have sinned, all alike are unworthy of God’s praise,” (Rom 3:23) who doubt their faith, act uncharitably toward their neighbor, violate the laws of the Church and avoid confessing Christ openly, feel offended or shocked at persecution?
Anyone who speaks the truth of Christ in this world, whose prince is Satan, (Jn 12:31) will suffer every persecution – even at the hands of the Church or those in their own household. (2 Tim 3:12)
As in the American Civil War, when brother fought against brother, one in support of a grave evil and another against it, Christians will suffer for Christ the more they stand up for Him, and will always act as a mirror of scorn to the world, convicting it of sin and exhorting it to the painful reality of self-examination and the need for conversion which many will go to any lengths to avoid, even harming the ones they most profess to love.
In the world today, when those who most seek to follow Christ receive condemnation from those who adulterate the Gospel with worldly errors and ambiguities, or those who distort Scripture to justify their erroneous conclusions, or those who use misguided guilt, the worldly foolishness of pseudo-science or social ambush tactics, alongside the seductions of indifference, pornography, consumerism and distraction, it is perhaps harder than ever to be a true disciple of Christ.
When the Faith was contrasted from the world through the sword of death, it was in a sense easier to obey; now, when the sword has become softened, infective, virulent, hidden, its tip can slip through even unawares and work its way to our heart until we become wraithed into a sinful shadow, the image of God obscured in darkness.
Only the brilliant light of Christ’s eternal truth in charity, safeguarded by the authority of the Church even against the foils of its own caretakers, can penetrate this darkness, bringing to light every subtlety of the Devil and equipping us with the sword of God’s Word to guide our way as a lamp to our feet (Ps 118:105) and the full armour of God against the fiery darts of sin. (Ephesians 6:10-17) There will always be divisions in the Church and in the lives of Christians, as St. Paul taught: “Parties there must needs be among you, so that those who are true metal may be distinguished from the rest.” (1 Cor 11:19) Yet, as Our Lord warned, “It is impossible that hurt should never be done to men’s consciences; but woe betide the man who is the cause of it. Better for him to have had a mill-stone tied about his neck, and to be cast into the sea, than to have hurt the conscience of one of these little ones.” (Lk 17:1-2) The Church, through the apostolic authority of the Magisterium and its preservation of Tradition, is the only beacon against the abyss of relativism and the nihilism to which it leads.