Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth
I did not come to bring peace, but a sword
For I have come to turn
"a man against his father,
A daughter against her mother,
A daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law--
A man's enemies will be the members of his own household"
Frequently cited as a contradiction in the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth (I made plenty of use of it myself when I was active in various agnostic and atheist groups years ago), the verses may very well be amongst the most misunderstood elements of the message. Was this Jesus really trying to encourage people to go to war with members of their own families? Such teaching makes no sense when placed in the context of the rest of what Jesus of Nazareth taught his followers.
Keeping in mind that these are my own interpretations of the message, framed within my own personal theology, I believe this element requires more than a literal translation. Why would brother turn against brother and sister against sister if Jesus taught love for one's neighbor and the giving of love without the anticipation of a return on investment if he was then encouraging his followers to turn on those neighbors?
Simple. He wasn't.
And if you greet only your brothers,
what are you doing more than others?
Within the framed collective realities of our existence, the easiest path is to follow the path put before us by family and friends. We embrace what they embrace, laugh at what they laugh at, love what they love, and mock what they mock. We may embrace the values given to us by our parents and teachers, but do we ever seek our own path, do we ever consider what is outside of those values and beliefs? Generations may follow the same religion, the same goals, sometimes even the same line of work. The family business is passed on and inherited, from father to son, from mother to daughter. We are part of a clan, a tribe, that holds shared beliefs, aspirations and ways of thinking.
If a man had three brothers, and all three of his brothers were strong in their belief in force was necessary to destroy evil, the man would likely follow in their path. If the three brothers were opposed to violence and dedicated themselves to helping and loving their fellow man, the fourth brother would be likely to follow that path. If the man's three brothers believe in nothing aside from the ground they walk on and the money in their pockets, then the fourth brother is likely to follow that path. The sword comes when the fourth brother takes a different path.
In the time of Jesus of Nazareth there was great unrest. The nation of Israel was under occupation by the Romans and the faithful divided into sects and groups that had their own interpretations of how to deal with the oppression of the Romans. The zealots sought to unify Israel under a leader who would inspire the people to fight against the occupying forces and drive them out. They were strong in their faith and their beliefs, but had little patience for those who did not agree with their conclusions. There were many groups, all of which translated what was happening in different ways and most were unyielding in the righteousness of their own beliefs.
When the time came, many, if not most, of those who followed the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth turned their backs on him. It wasn't because they suddenly decided he made no sense and was just some kind of nut case, it was because of fear. Those who could be identified as his followers were not exactly safe and even members of their own households were willing to sell them out. Persecution of those who followed his teachings would continue for centuries.
And that was the sword.
In more modern terms, the sword has a similar meaning. It is not a weapon of war, but a blade that divides. There are those who take up weapons to kill in the name of their religion and there are those who know this is not the message. As we see it today with Islam and Christianity, many fight in the name of their faith. Those who believe that to do so is a violation of the very heart of their faith are put at odds with them. The sword that divides is a challenge. Consider the dangers inherent in speaking out against the American invasion of Iraq in the early stages of this long war. The zealots were out in force, waving banners and making declarations of faith. Their sense of righteousness was difficult to counter without conflict. I sense that the passion of the zealots runs with the same energy through those in the Islamic world as it does in the Christian world. There... is... no... difference. The voice that shouts loudest is often the only voice that is heard.
The allegory of Rancho Nuevo has the sword at the center of its message. In the story, the red angels, preservers of the law and protectors of order, find themselves in conflict with the white angels, who hold the heart of the message above all things. Both groups believe in their path and that it is justified by a higher power, but they are in constant conflict. We see this same conflict here. The true battle is not between different faiths, it is between brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, husbands and wives over interpretations of the same faith. Those who live by the sword will most certainly die by the sword, but this is the sacrifice they will make to defend the laws and the interpretations of their own beliefs. We have free will. The choice is ours.
In modern times we would certainly not embrace the political systems and social customs of the "ancient world" and yet some hold the laws of our religions from hundreds and thousands of years ago to be valid in our time. As one who believes that theology is merely a framework through which the heart of the message can be delivered, it seems absurd to do so. The laws of the Old Testament were given to a people struggling to survive and to find their own way. In the New Testament they were given to a people seeking to survive against occupation and oppression. Without framing the message within existing structures of belief while addressing issues of the day, the message would have fallen onto dumb ears. "Yes, but how does this help us?" The message is always given within that framework, the framework of how it relates to the situations of the time. Look at the time in which Mohammed lived and what situations his people faced and you will understand why he framed the message as he did.
I receive messages and I interpret them as well as I can, within the limits of my human frailty and weaknesses. Perhaps this is the most telling of them all:
The sword will divide again, and the time of division is coming. There will be conflict in the hearts of the people. Those who will follow the heart of the message and embrace their brothers and sisters, no matter what their beliefs or background, will become Convergent. Those who choose to live by the sword and die by the sword will become engaged in conflict without end. Their battles with each other will follow them throughout eternity and they will never escape it. This is their fate. Those who know and who understand will be mocked, humiliated and persecuted, for the real war is yet to begin. This war will have nothing to do with swords, guns, bombs or missiles. Each must do what they must do to follow their own path, but once one considers themselves superior to any of their brothers or sisters they have lost the path, whether they realize it or not. And as such, so does Rome rise once again.
The time is coming. You are standing on a road. There is a lantern and a sword on the ground. You can only carry one. The choice is yours and yours alone.
Although I may appear to have a bias towards Christian teachings
This is only because it is the religion I am most familiar and comfortable with
As a Convergent, I believe the core of the teachings is always the same
Biblical references are quoted from the New International Version
Simply because that was the Bible my grandmother gave me years ago