The same Jesus who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” also proclaimed this in Sunday’s Gospel reading:
Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?
No, I tell you, but rather division. (Luke 12:51)
Did Jesus contradict himself?
During this month’s Meet the Master session at Pilgrim Center of Hope, I addressed this head-on with our participants. There are many instances in Scripture, even in the Gospel and the words of Jesus, where contradictions seem apparent. As mature Christians on our pilgrim journey, we need to learn how to wrestle with these questions rather than avoid them or write them off using trite statements.
Who Is This Jesus?
To avoid answering our main question from a particular point of view or agenda, we need to look at the entire context: the person of Jesus, his life, his words, his actions. That is why the Gospel is essential reading for us. As St. Jerome said, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”
Let’s fine-tune our original question, Did Jesus contradict himself? by looking at these seeming contradictions.
Jesus As A Peacemaker
Did Jesus wish peace upon others?
- He taught his disciples to wish peace to those they met. “As you enter a house, wish it peace.” (Matthew 10:12)
- Those whom Jesus healed, he sent away in peace. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.” (Mark 5:34)
- As Jesus appeared to the disciples after his Resurrection, he greeted them with peace. He stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” (Luke 24:36)
Let’s look deeper into the meaning of “peacemaker.” For the Hebrews, this was a “pursuer of peace” like Aaron, who during conflicts would sit with each party individually. Aaron would speak with and listen to each individual until all bitterness was removed from each one’s heart. Finally, the parties once-at-odds would embrace and be reconciled. (cf. Rabbi Hillel, Avot) To be a pursuer of peace means to foster reconciliation.
Was Jesus a pursuer of peace?
- He and his disciples shared meals with those in society who were despised. While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. (Matthew 9:10)
- He accepted invitations from not only the despised, sick, and desperate, but also the leaders & revered members of society. (ex. Luke 7)
- Jesus forgave people of their sins, and taught his disciples that they should forgive perfectly and without exception. (cf. Matthew 18:22)
By all of the above, it is clear that Jesus did bring peace – and Christians throughout time attest to his continued peacemaking throughout history and in the world today.
Jesus As A Source of Division
However, our original question considers Jesus’ assertion that he came to bring division (symbolized by “the sword” in Matthew 10:34).
Jesus “did not come to establish peace upon the earth” because, contrary to popular hopes at the time, he did not come as the mighty Messiah expected to end all war. Rather, Jesus himself became a cause for division.
- When Jesus healed and forgave sins, he was often criticized by the religious leaders. (ex. Matthew 9)
- When Jesus tended to the despised members of society, he received similar criticism. (ex. Luke 15:1-2)
- For having revealed himself as the Son of God, religious leaders had Jesus condemned to death. (cf. John 5:18)
Jesus’ pursuit of peace and reconciliation thus brought conflict and division among those persons who would not accept it. While he desires God’s peace to be with all, the Prince of Peace causes controversy.
How Can We Truly Be At Peace?
As Jesus’ followers, how can we be truly and sincerely “at peace”, while division takes place all around us? As we strive to reconcile people with each other, with themselves, and with God, we will experience joy tinged with discomfort and desolation. Not everyone is ready to accept the radical message of peace and reconciliation that Jesus brings. We have all been there once; preferring control and security as the Pharisees and scribes did.
Instead, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection shows us that the way to perfection is vulnerability and self-giving love. Jesus did not contradict himself, but he tells us the truth while subverting his listeners’ expectations.
As Pope Francis says, For Christians, (holiness) involves a constant & healthy unease (Gaudete et Exsultate, no. 99). Let’s reflect on this while Our Lord’s words echo in our hearts:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. (John 14:27)
Answering Christ’s call, Pilgrim Center of Hope guides people to encounter Him so as to live in hope, as pilgrims in daily life.
Angela Sealana is Media Coordinator for Pilgrim Center of Hope, having served at the apostolate for nearly 10 years. She also serves on the PCH Speaker Team.