Here is what I have said about this passage in previous years (scroll down for what needs to be said this year):
We love to hear Jesus saying, “blessed are the peacemakers” (Matt. 5:9).
But today we hear, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” He makes even our most trusted relationships shatter in enmity: “one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.” What happened to peacemaking?
It’s a sad but undeniable truth—effective love provokes hostility. We don’t mind the idea of people loving us as long as their love won’t change our settled habits. But when love gets real, we’re not ready for it. When love moves in and starts rearranging priorities, we can turn nasty. Loved ones want us to take better care of ourselves, and we say that’s none of their business. They don’t even have to say anything about it for us to start pushing them away.
That’s what happened to the love God started living with us in Jesus, and it’s what happened to his followers. They offered a love that would change lives, effective love, and for every person drawn to their offer, more than twice as many turned nasty. That’s what happens whenever love gets too real.
But the story of the Gospels is the story of love’s final triumph. God’s love made flesh provokes hostility. It gets Jesus killed. And then it comes back in the risen Jesus, and in his Spirit-inhabited body, the Church. Love always has a way of coming back. It may seem to lose, but that’s never the last word. “Those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
What needs to be said this year:
Yes, effective love provokes hostility. Now we need to notice that sometimes it even looks hostile, certainly not “nice,” because if it’s really effective love, it demands justice.
If you feel threatened by the outrage expressed over the systemic discounting of black lives, remember that outrage can be an expression of the effective love that demands justice.
If are fixated on the fact that this outrage has resulted in the destruction of property, I won’t say that this was always justified, but I’ll remind you that Jesus resorted to the destruction of property when he visited the Temple in Jerusalem (Mark 11:15-17).
If you are outraged yourself, don’t mute it, but deepen it to get in touch with the deeper love for all God’s children, especially God’s discounted children, that this outrage reflects. We say “black lives matter” because, if we don’t, we deny that all lives matter. We hold oppressors accountable, not out of vengefulness, but because being held accountable is the only way to become liberated from oppressive practices (which are ultimately self-destructive).
“I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Effective love provokes conflict, conflict for the sake of reconciliation. It “moves in and starts rearranging priorities” (as I said in previous years). Sometimes its intrusiveness provokes hostility in me. Other times its intrusiveness feels like hostility toward me. What else should we expect in an already conflicted world?
But again, the story of the Gospels is a story of how love’s provocation to conflict becomes a pathway to reconciliation. Keep that in mind.