Exodus 1:8-14, 22
"I have come to bring, not peace, but the sword."
Matthew’s gospel is the only one that includes these disturbing words of Jesus. Matthew’s community, made up of Jewish Christians, was under intense persecution for their decision to follow Jesus as their Messiah. Their decision sparked division. They were ejected from the synagogue, estranged from their families, ridiculed and marginalized because of their decision for Christ. They were cut off from the institutions of their society.
The sword was an apt symbol for Matthew’s community. Their decision was like a sword cutting ties. They faced a challenge. Either choose Jesus or reject him. There was no middle ground. They had to decide. Interestingly, the word "decision" comes from the Latin: decidere, to cut from. It’s a word Billy Graham always used to challenge his audiences: "Will you make a decision for Christ?"
In our time, Jesus again has come to bring, not peace, but the sword. Like Matthew’s community, we, as Catholics, face challenges today. We believe in absolute truth; our culture ridicules us for not accepting moral relativism. We affirm the sanctity of all life; our culture calls us fanatics for rejecting abortion and assisted suicide. We embrace the truth of traditional marriage; our culture mocks us as bigots for refusing to support "same sex marriage."
The Church teaches unpleasant truths. There is no neutral ground. It’s the sword. The challenge to Matthew’s community echoes across the ages to us today. Will we cut all ties with the errors of the popular culture? Will we make a decision for Christ?
Deacon Manuel Valencia is on the staff at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.