Don’t think that I came to send peace on the earth. I didn’t come to send peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man at odds against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A man’s foes will be those of his own household. He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me isn’t worthy of me. He who doesn’t take his cross and follow after me, isn’t worthy of me. He who seeks his life will lose it; and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.—Matthew 10:34-39
These passages of scripture have been an enigma to me most of my life. On a mental level, I was always led to believe I had to somehow muster up the resolve to love Jesus more and prove it through works based suffering. On a more spiritual level, I knew there was truth in this passage but couldn’t quite reconcile how to apply these verses. Every sentence here seems to have a profoundly deep meaning. Likewise, all together these verses can take quite some time to digest.
The first verse (34) seem backwards when Jesus talks about sending a sword instead of peace. How I’ve come to know this is that we will be persecuted if we are truly following Jesus and his followers will not find physical peace in this world. These verses can be easily manipulated though to make it seem like we have to carry swords for our own protection and even forcibly try to convert people. Likewise, the people of Jesus’ time, even the disciples, seemed to be looking for a Messiah that was going to bring Israel into a new golden age by overthrowing Rome.
The next two sentences (v35-36) talk about how family members will even turn against those who are truly following Jesus. Up until this point, I could somewhat understand and accept these passages. However, verse 37 is one I could never fully comprehend mentally. I knew I should love Jesus more than my family, but I couldn’t understand how to get to that point. To some extent this is because I was never truly shown how Jesus loves us; instead, his love was always tied to agendas and politics. The message came across as though I had to do more to earn Jesus’ love. Once I let all of these external obligations fall away and sought after the Jesus of the Bible, his love showed through and I found out what his love is really about. These verses show that when we love Jesus first, we learn how to love others more than we ever could by our human means. I use to love people based on how they performed—if they attended church regularly, didn’t drink or smoke, didn’t have tattoos, didn’t curse, didn’t watch R-rated movies, had the same political views I did, were vehemently patriotic, etc…the list goes on and on. I loved them conditionally, though I would still claim “love” for them if they were willing to change to my viewpoints. Now that I’ve discovered the unconditional love of Jesus, I strive to love everyone, even if they persecute me.
Verses 38-39 seem to state this implicitly. When we take up our cross and follow Jesus, we will be persecuted to the extent that we may lose our life. It seems this verse states that we can’t love our own life more that Jesus. Falling more in love with Jesus, I’m learning to love my life less to the extent of laying it down, even if it’s not “fair.” Many today claim they have the right to take another’s life under certain conditions, but Jesus never condoned such acts in any of his words that I can find.
Ultimately, like with the rest of the Bible, it depends on what context these verses are read in. If someone reads the Bible as a rule book, these passages would seem to contradict God’s love in that we almost have to dislike our own family in order to truly love Jesus all the while forcing change onto others. If read from a non-religious standpoint, it would seem that Jesus is arrogant and requires us to hate others and only love him. When read from the viewpoint of God’s love for us, we can see that he doesn’t want us to place all our hope into those things that will eventually fail us no matter how well intentioned the motives may be. This, in effect, sums up God’s “jealousy” for us.