(By Nakkolackal VL Eapen, Austin, TX)
Coming as it is, from “The Prince of Peace” (Is. 9:6), the above pithy statement is nothing short of a conundrum, a puzzle or a riddle. Sometime back a friend of mine sought to know what it meant. The following is the explanation I provided, proving Alexander Pope’s remark: “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” I may, therefore, be forgiven if I have fallen short.
Luke too refers to the same cataclysmic pronouncement of the Lord twice in his gospel, but couched in slightly different words. (i) “I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled.” (Lk. 12:49). That means, it has not been kindled at the time of the Lord’s speaking; but will be, in its due time, AT OR BEFORE the Final Judgment. (ii) “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division; for henceforth in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against her mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” (Lk 12:51:53). It is NOT domestic matters, but those pertaining to ‘faith’, that will divide them irreconcilably. Incidentally, I know a family in Kerala, comprising devout Christian parents; a son and his wife, who are ardent devotees of Satya Sai Baba; and a daughter married to an atheist. This family, in and of itself, is a telling illustration of what the Lord is prophetically pointing to. As a matter of Providential necessity, the faithful FEW, who profess and possess Christ, will remain uncompromisingly pitted against the Secular Humanists and other protagonists of ‘inclusiveness, tolerance and expediency’, until His return in His glory to judge the living and the dead. Then will come to pass that, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” (Mt. 22:14). Until that time, division, and NOT unity and peace, will prevail.
What does ‘peace’, as referred to in Mt. 10:34, mean? Peace is not merely the absence of conflict or division. Such absence of conflict is just a transitional uneasy lull, at best. Peace is much more than that. In fact, God’s peace transcends human understanding. Why? Because peace belongs to the realm of one’s spirit, whereas ‘understanding’ is a function of the domain of one’s soul. (NOTE: By ‘soul’ is meant one’s ‘psyche’.) Among the nine fruits of the Spirit listed in Gal. 5: 22&23, the first three are ‘Love, Joy and Peace’. It is not without reason that ‘love’ ranks first. Once the fullness of the ‘LOVE of Christ’ controls one’s life, one BEGINS to experience the abounding ‘JOY of Christ’ that makes one’s joy ‘full’, and THEN ONLY, ‘the PEACE of Christ’. When one has the Lord’s peace, one is at peace with oneself, with God and with one’s fellowmen. Habitual confession, Holy Communion, forsaking of the sins confessed, penance and prayer enable one to attain to that level EVENTUALLY, where one’s SOUL and SPIRIT are always AT REST in Christ Jesus, the Prince of Peace. When that occurs, the fruits of the Spirit become manifest in one’s life, not ALL the nine at once, but in their sequential order Love, Joy, Peace, … Self-control (9th) one after the other in due course stage by stage. Unless one tastes oneself the fruits of the Spirit, one cannot comprehend them. The ‘spirit’ of one, who has had access to the fruits of the Spirit in one’s life, does not leave its earthly abode for the heavenly one, empty-handed. It (i.e. the spirit) carries with it, Christ’s ‘Love, Joy and Peace’, when it sets out on its voyage of discovery into the uncharted realm of eternity.
At this point, it is significant to take particular note of the fact that subsequent to the pronouncement in Mt. 10:34, the Lord does indeed graciously leave His peace with His Church, as represented, then, symbolically by His beloved disciples. (Jn. 14:27). Why, then, has His peace been elusive in our Church for so long? The unpalatable answer to that is found in Isaiah 48:22 & 57:21. “There is no peace, says the Lord, for the wicked.” In God’s sight, we, the laity and the clergy of both the factions, are ‘wicked’. The urgent task, therefore, is to make amends before the Lord’s patience wears thin. Let us, therefore, most humbly and respectfully implore both the Holy Synods to iron out their differences amicably, once and for all, and thus facilitate and uphold the Lord’s glorious reign of everlasting peace in His blood-bought Church, uninterruptedly hereafter. There is no unbridgeable gulf for the Lord, if only, the members of the respective Holy Synods humble themselves to allow Him, our Paschal Lamb, the final say in the matter. And for that dream to come to pass, we need to cry out relentlessly, in right earnest, to move the Throne of Grace, and thus, win the Heavenly Father’s unfailing favor and ever-sufficing provision.
Now we need to focus on the significance of the word ‘sword’ in the text, and its relevance to the present-day context. A sword cuts, divides and/or separates. So does Christ the Lord. He ‘separates’ cosmos from chaos; sheep from goats; wheat from tare; right from wrong; truth from error; light from darkness; the righteous from the unrighteous; the redeemed ‘few’ from the condemned ‘many’. In fact, the Shining Sturdy Sword, that He allegorically alludes to, is none other than Himself. He is the Unbendable Sword, in as far as His standards of ‘right and wrong’, ‘truth and untruth’ are ‘absolute, immutable and uncompromising.’ Even before the foundation of the world, the decisive role, this Mighty Sword is destined to play, has been carefully chalked out and laid down by the Almighty Father, in His own infallible authority.
Simeon’s prophetic utterance in Lk. 2:34&35 provides critical insight into what the Sword’s crucial role will be at present and in the future. “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul ALSO), that thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” I have taken the liberty to capitalize, ‘also’, in the above excerpt, to imply that countless other souls will be pierced at the Final Judgment, in the not too distant future. Isaiah speaks of Christ the Sword, as “a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling.”
Indeed, that is what we witness today. We often hear the question being frivolously asked: ‘Is it not sufficient that a Hindu becomes a good Hindu; a Muslim, a good Muslim; a Jew, a good Jew; a Buddhist, a good Buddhist and so on, and so forth?’ No, it’s not sufficient. God’s only begotten Son’s ‘sin offering’ of Himself on the cross is to draw the ‘entire’ sinful humanity to Himself as He is the Only Ordained Narrow Way to the Heavenly Father. It is further affirmed in Is: 8:15, “And many shall stumble thereon; they shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.” The Almighty Father having decreed it through Prophet Isaiah, it will literally come to pass, as did ALL the prophecies about the Lord’s birth and related details. With the third person in the plural (i.e. they) as the subject, the verbs ‘shall stumble/fall etc.’ are not indicative of simple futurity, but of cent percent certainty. It is imperative or ‘a must’ that they, the unbelievers and the lying champions of inclusiveness and expediency, who decry and deny the existence of absolute truths, stumble because of their reluctance to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, and thereby, fall and crumble lest God the Father be proven a liar beyond a shadow of doubt. Indeed, He has come NOT to appease, but as the Sword, to separate His adopted ‘few’ from the rebellious ‘many’, who defiantly seek to reach God the Father through multiple dubious ways of their own.
With Secular Humanism having its heyday, and its brisk and triumphant march forward, calling the tune, and calibrating a new Value System of its own, as per which there is NO absolute ‘right’ and NO absolute ‘wrong’ any longer, the stage is set for the swift and sure disintegration of civilization, we have hitherto cherished and preserved, according to the Judeo-Christian beliefs, values, norms and traditions. This has NOT been without its prohibitive socio-economic costs, in terms of the ever-spiraling incidence of globally pandemic AIDS; unbridled pre-marital sex with its attendant unwanted pregnancies and indiscriminate abortions with little or NO regard for human life; emergence of newer and newer infectious diseases like SARS, Bird Flu etc. etc.; an exponential increase in drug trafficking, and the resultant drug abuse and addiction, leading to an estimated 8 million new-born per year, with avoidable birth defects, and of whom 3.3 million, under the age of five, die yearly because of their serious congenital abnormalities. I cut short the endless list of human tragedies for want of space.
Holding the form of religion while denying its power, many liberal denominations of the Christian Church have joined the race, for keeping abreast with the madness and profanity of changing times, by ceremoniously blessing same-sex unions, by ordaining gay men and lesbians to priesthood and so on. The conservative denominations have not fared any better, with endless litigation at one end of the spectrum, and endemic priestly practice of pedophilia at the other end. Church dogmas, like the Holy Trinity, the Virgin Birth, the Divinity and the Humanity of Christ the Lord, the Resurrection etc., and Church doctrines like Male Priesthood, the Sanctity of Life, Concern for the Dignity and Worth of each human being regardless of color, creed, gender and race etc. are increasingly under a cleverly crafted and carefully orchestrated assault. The Church is virtually at a dead end with no room for further deterioration. The Lord’s words to the effect that He has come to bring a sword, ring absolutely true, in light of what I have written so far in Part Two.
Coupled with an awareness of the above, we have to have a critical factual appreciation of where the other world religions stand vis-a-vis the only begotten Son of God. Islam (more than a billion practicing believers) adamantly maintains that the Compassionate Allah has no ‘Son’. Muslims, therefore, consider our Lord only as a prophet (Isa Nabi) like Mohammad who, according to them, is the ‘Counselor’ sent by Allah as promised, on the completion of Prophet Jesus’ work. They deny the death and the resurrection on the ground that Prophet Jesus employed his miracle-working power to make the crucifixion look real, while in fact, someone else who resembled him was nailed to the cross. In their denial of Jesus’ death is an implied tacit admission/contradiction that Jesus is immortal, though only a prophet. Adam, having been created directly from dust/dirt by Allah, is on a higher level than Jesus, brought to life through Mary. Hinduism (almost a billion believers) accepts Jesus Christ as a Godly person, purified through cycles of incarnation, and of a similar status as that of Shri Rama whom they worship as a ‘god’ among thousands. Belief in incarnation repudiates the prospect of salvation through Jesus Christ’s death. Hindus are skeptical about the resurrection. They rely on the Bhakthi or the Karma or the Jnana or the Raja yoga to obtain ‘Mukthi’ or freedom from further cycles of incarnation eventually. Buddhism (about 360 million) teaches the path of self-renunciation to attain to enlightenment or Buddhahood, and thereby, ‘Nirvana’ or liberation from bondage. Judaism (around 13 million) still does not accept Jesus as the Christ or the Messiah. The other religions somewhat share the commonalities among the above lines of thought to a greater or lesser degree.
The Lord’s precise foreknowledge of all the facts above in Part 2 accounts for His entrusting to the disciples His ‘Great Commission’, and sending them far and wide. He doesn’t want the adherents of other religions to perish on account of their ignorance of the free gift of salvation available through Him. (A clever excuse invented to counter evangelizing is the claim that non-Christians can be drawn to Christ by ourselves being role models. Except for the Lord, no one has ever lived the Christian life in its fullness. Therefore, becoming role models in the Christian sense is next to impossible unless we emulate Mother Teresa’s example, and invite the Risen Lord to live His life in and through us. Sorry, for this detour/digression.) It also makes intelligible why The Lord says what He says in Mt. 10:34. He foreknows who ALL will be His in the end. A great number of ungodly men, both Christians and non-Christians, will be lukewarm toward Him. 2 Pet. 3:7 reads: “But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist have been stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.” Jude, therefore, exhorts us: “And convince some, who doubt; save some, by snatching them out of the fire; on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.” (Jude 1: 22&23).
Down through the centuries until now, Christianity’s ascent has periodically met with fierce opposition, resulting in considerable bloodshed. In spite of the lull of the present-day uneasy truce, it is a delicate and difficult proposition to be practicing Christians in predominantly Muslim countries, and in Communist States. Secular humanism being where it is, and skepticism about the Lord’s divinity, virgin birth, resurrection etc., being mischievously promoted, the chances for ruthless persecution of Christians in the future are greater than ever before, as foreshadowed by the Lord in Jn. 16:2, “Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.” Mt. 10:22 reiterates it: “And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” That is, even by one’s own kith and kin.
Family being the basic unit of any civilized society, division in the family, foreshadowed in Lk. 12: 51-53, spills over to the Church, the nation and the world. That is where we are now. Strife is writ large in every realm of human activity. The wicked are steadily on the increase. Psalm 58:3 amplifies it. “The wicked go astray from the womb, they err from their birth, speaking lies.” And God guarantees: “There is no peace for the wicked.” The only way out of the sad predicament is what the Psalmist prescribes in Ps. 84:10. “For a day in Thy courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.” May this precept be our watchword for the rest of our lives. Acts 4:12 reads, “And there is salvation in no one ELSE, for there is no OTHER name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (NOTE: Capitalization is for emphasis.)
Through steadfast prayerful fasting and unfailing regular attendance at the Church, we have to make the Lord’s precious name, our hiding tower, refuge and fortress habitually, now and for ever. We shall then come to experience what it is, ‘the peace of God, which passes all understanding’, and we shall never be put to shame by Satan and his demon spirits; nor shall we be proud of our fallen state of being a DIVIDED Church.-TVOO