“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.’” Matthew 10:34-36
Was Jesus a macho kind of guy?
I mean, any man who turns over tables in the temple would have to have rippling biceps and an Alpha male temper, right? And then there is that whole handyman mystique: as a carpenter, Jesus would have spent a lot of time in the sun building things, like those tan, rippling abs and tight body.
“Macho Jesus” is gaining popularity in certain circles, apparently (or, at least according to a recent article inThe Guardian). Jesus is a man’s man- or, so the theory can go. He is the raw, uncensored embodiment of ultra-masculinity. That rare combination of GQ’s “Man of the Year” and the red-meat-eating, beer-guzzling guy next door- if such ever existed.
But is this depiction of Jesus really a fair and accurate interpretation of the man we meet in the Gospels? Or, is he the product of our own culturally influenced self-projections?
The other day a large, gas-guzzling truck drove by with two bumper stickers on its rear. (One day I will write the book on bumper-sticker theology.) They read back to back, “Jesus is Lord” and “We buy guns.” It hadn’t occurred to me until then that Jesus and guns could be such a well, “natural,” fit. Macho Jesus…or macho Christian?
How is this for another example? Just today a friend shared the relatively recent news story about New Welcome Baptist Church in St. Elmo, Alabama. Apparently the music minister, upon dismissal from his post and receipt of his last paycheck, tased the pastor- at which point a deacon stepped in with his pocket knife and stabbed the music minister’s mother (who by this time had stepped into the fray to protect her son). Macho Jesus…or macho Christians?
But then there is this weird saying from the mouth of Jesus Himself. A lot of talk about wielding swords and war mongering. None of those feel-good, “all the people, living in harmony” lyrics of John Lennon.
A helpful clue in deciphering Jesus’ intended meaning here is the reference to the Old Testament book of Micah: “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” (Micah 7:6).
Have you ever heard someone say, “I have a word from the Lord for you?” When I do, my first inclination is to duck. There is a sense in which in this passage the prophet Micah is preparing the people of Israel to duck- or at least to brace themselves for what will happen when God does do something new in their midst. Something that departs from the old script of gloom and doom that they have been reading. And this new something will not make everyone happy. It will cause conflict for the reason that there will be those who liked the old status quo, which in this case was a skin-deep religiosity and a disregard for God’s hard call to justice and mercy.
So Jesus by quoting Micah is really drawing his hearers (the disciples) back to an old, familiar passage from their Scriptures, with a view to preparing them for the new thing He is doing. This new thing will involve a disruption of the same old, same old. The empty salutes to the “form” of God’s law, with sheer disregard for the “spirit” of that law? The perpetuation of injustices against society’s most poor and vulnerable? God’s way will put an end to all of this “business as usual.”
And this divine way of doing things will not please everybody- especially when embodied in the person of God Himself, Jesus is saying here. A death on the cross for the sins of the whole world and a rising to new life and all of the implications contained therein? They mean that something really new and beautiful is taking place. A new creation is underway, little by little, one person at a time. In the person of Jesus and through relationship with Him, God will write God’s “law” on people’s hearts.
And this new creation will make some people turn away in violence. Because they had liked the way things were. The rich guy with the great big bonuses and the luxury everything who cannot share even his table scraps with the poor man. The woman who spends all of her time hording her money and possessions, so that she has a great, big storehouse of plenty all to herself. The religious keepers of the law (often ministers like myself) whose status and self-justification are now threatened. They all have reasons to dislike and even fight against this new order. They all have their excuses for chafing against God’s justice and for violently rebelling against God’s mercy. They- we- like to brandish our swords and wave our guns in the air. Now who’s being macho?