Notes On Arab orthodoxy – 26/10/15
Those people who rush to the Bible in order to justify their words and deeds that are not in accordance with Christ excel at producing some verses in support of their errant opinions, but only after cutting the passage off from its context and distorting it from its true intent. Quite a few have resorted to this method in order to back up their opinions about what is falsely and slanderously called “holy war”.
Jesus’ saying, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matthew 10:34) is the verse most commonly cited among supporters of the idea of holy war. However, if we continue reading the passage in which this verse occurs we will discover– if we allow ourselves to be guided by the exegesis of the Fathers of the Church– that it has no connection to military wars or struggles or battles. The text continues with Jesus saying, “For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it” (Mathew 35-39).
What is meant by the sword, then, is not the chopping weapon used in wars, but rather the word of God that cuts between good and evil, between righteousness and iniquity, between goodness and sin… Likewise, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews says, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). In his explanation of the verse, Saint Hilary of Poitier (d. 367) says, “When we are renewed by the water of baptism by the power of the Word, we are separated from the root of our sins and our will. We are cut off from our unbridled attachment to father and mother, as by the sword of God, and are separated from them.”
As for Saint Jerome (d. 420), it appears even more clearly in his exegesis of the passage, and he recalls that after Jesus said “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword”, He divided a man from his father, mother and relatives “so that he will not place family allegiance ahead of faith … We must preserve this order in all our relationships. Love your father, your mother and your children, on the condition that your love of family does not come into opposition to your love of God and it becomes impossible for you to hold on to both at the same time. Rejecting your family is better than rejecting God.”
Blessed Augustine (d. 430) is of the same opinion, so after mentioning that the father says to his son “I begot you” and the mother says to her son “I bore you”, the father says, “I reared you” and the mother says “I sustained you”, Augustine commands each one of his readers to say to his parents, “I love you in Christ, not instead of Him. You are with me in Christ, but I will not be with you apart from Him.” But if the parents say, “We do not care about Christ,” then for Augustine the choice is clear: “Say to your parents, ‘I care about Christ more than I care about you. How can I obey the one who reared me and lose the one who created me?'”
As for when Jesus said, “He who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one” and His disciples responded, “It is enough” (Luke 22: 36-38), Saint Ambrose of Milan (d. 397) says, depicting the Holy Apostle Peter saying to Jesus, “Why do you order me now to buy a sword when you forbade me from using it? Why do you order me to possess what you forbade me to unsheathe?” Then comes the response according to Ambrose, who continues: “You said, O Jesus, to Peter when he offered two swords, ‘It is enough’… This seems evil to many, but the Lord is not evil. Despite his ability to take vengeance, He chooses to be crucified. There is a spiritual sword to sell what you possess and buy the Word.”
Those who want to go to the Bible to extract what suits their lusts and desires will inevitably be frustrated. The true believer is the one who goes to the Bible to search for what the Bible wants to say to us. We do not make it say what it does not say after distorting it, chopping it up and fragmenting it. To those who want to justify their holy wars, we say in colloquial Arabic, “Go knit with a different needle!”