[One of the people whose writing I love to read is Michelle Van Loon. She contributes at her.meneutics (among other places) and blogs at Pilgrim’s Road Trip, and I am so pleased she sent this very personal piece to run here. Knowing my readers, you’re going to love it.]
I met my husband Bill over thirty years ago at a young adult Bible study. Shortly after we began dating, I brought this man with the Dutch last name home to meet my Jewish parents. After Bill departed that day, I mentioned that Bill’s mom was Jewish.
My folks had slotted him as a Gentile. My mom arched an eyebrow. “Where did you say you met him again? At church?” She spat the word “church” as if she were uttering a curse word.
My dad frowned and walked out of the room.
I could almost hear the zzzzing of the sword slicing through the air, dividing my family. Though many Christians love to claim the promises of Christ, the promise I was living in my family is not one to which many of us cling:
“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.)
Jesus was preparing to send His followers out to proclaim the kingdom in works and words, and referenced the prophet Micah’s words in order to ready them for the hostility many of them would experience from those nearest and dearest to them.
The first time I’d felt the pain of this division was when I’d come to faith in Christ a few years earlier. I’d felt it again after I turned 18 and began attending a local church for the first time. Though my parents weren’t particularly religious, they were deeply wounded by my newfound faith. Our relationship was very strained as a result. The tension between us was so thick you could cut it with…a sword.
I’ve known other Jewish believers whose religious-observant parents have held mock funerals for them. I’ve even known someone who’d been forced to change his last name so as not to bring any further disgrace on his family. Jesus’ promise of division was delivered in the context of a sobering, all-or-nothing definition of discipleship:
“…Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:38-39.)
I’ve been asked if Bill’s Jewish heritage brought a measure of reconciliation to my strained relationship with my parents. The truth is that the sword of the faith Bill and I shared in our Messiah did exactly what Jesus promised it would do. Though the faith rift with my parents has been an area of great sorrow and loss throughout much of my adulthood, I wouldn’t trade the joy of being Abba’s child for anything.
When considering the invitation of Jesus, most Jewish people don’t need anyone spelling out the consequences. They may even hear the zzzing of the sword as they weigh the cost of following him in their family relationships, friendships, and comfortable identity in the Jewish community.
This cost is not limited to Jewish believers, however. Our Messiah asks each one of us, Jew and Gentile alike, to lose our lives in order to gain his. Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously captured the essence of the disciple’s life with these words: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
Can you hear him calling you today? Know that this call may well be accompanied by the sword severing a meaningful relationship or long-time area of comfort in your life.
But look just beyond the wounds of the sword. You’ll find the joy of relationship with your Healer, longing to give you all that he is.