My reflection for 21 June inspired by Matthew 10:24-39; “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
One of my favorite movies from years ago was the Clint Eastwood western, The Outlaw Josey Wales. I imagine many of you have seen it, but for those who haven’t, basically Josey Wales is an outlaw, but more Robin Hood then Al Capone. He has suffered an injustice and he has taken it upon himself to enact the justice he feels he deserves. So… more or less, he goes around murdering people who either A) seek to bring him to face the law or who b) he feels deserve it. Curiously he is throughout presented as a hero when maybe he’s not really.
But I digress, there’s another character in the film, Lone Watie, a native American who joins with Josey as they head for Mexico. In the scene where they meet, Lone Watie describes the time he and other native leaders travelled to Washington DC in hopes that the federal government might do something to address the injustices he and his people were facing. Rather than receiving the justice they desired, they are given platitudes and empty gestures, they were told to “endeavor to persevere.”
In the film this phrase, endeavor to persevere, is used to show the emptiness of words when action is needed. It has parallels in the “thoughts and prayers” that are offered whenever a preventable tragedy occurs that those in power have little or no desire to address.
But I actually really like the meaning of the phrase. In so many ways it echoes very clearly with the message of the gospels and the Epistles of the Bible. In fact, it very much echoes with the whole of God’s salvation story. Trust in God, hold on to the promises even in the face of darkness, despair, and depravity, if you stumble get back up and keep seeking the path of Jesus. Keep trying, keep believing, have faith – endeavor to persevere.
But as we see in this message from Jesus in today’s gospel reading, our perseverance and our endeavoring has real world consequences.
“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.”
In other words, there are many, some who may be close to us, who do not desire to see the vision of Jesus enacted in our world. There are those who benefit from the status quo, no matter the cost to some of our neighbors and brothers and sisters, and who will seek to undermine the gospel mission of reconciliation and merciful justice.
Jesus is pretty clear that along with the rewards of faith, participation in the abundant life of Jesus’ conquest over death, there are also real-world costs.
We are engaged in a struggle with the evil of the world, but not the struggle of arms, we are not called to battle. No, we are called to witness, to live lives worthy of our Lord, to call out injustice and demand restoration, reconciliation, and peace.
We are called to “take up the cross and follow” Jesus wherever he leads us. We are called to sacrifice our fears and insecurities, our hatreds and rivalries, our self-righteous self regard in order that this world might be worthy of the Lord who strove to redeem it. We are called to not only not lose hope, but to interject that hope fearlessly into the world. We are called to do more than offer empty platitudes, to offer more than lip service or benign neglect. We are called to act, we are called to endeavor to persevere.
Thanks be to God.