Ex 1:8-14,22; Ps 124:1-8; Mt 10:34-11:1
“Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.”
Without the Lord’s help the children of Israel never would have survived. Again and again the Lord was with them when men rose up in fury against God’s chosen ones. The descendants of Jacob were trapped in the exigencies of history. Like a bird caught in a trap they were set free from the slavery of Egypt, but that’s the end of the story. Pharaoh and his people were frightened by the great increase among the children of Israel. The only response they could come up with was to work them to death and kill their children. We would call this social engineering and birth control. An old, very old, solution still popular today, although we have cleaned up the externals the reality is still the same. Even during the public ministry of the Lord Jesus people were willing to call peace what was far from peace. In today’s Gospel, the Lord Jesus makes it clear that he has not come to make everything nice. He has come to make clear the deception of socially engineered peace, which demands political correctness, even when there is no real peace. As the Lord Jesus teaches there can be no peace in a world where injustice and violence are ignored as a matter of convenience.
This may be one of the few times in history when being born a girl was truly a social advantage. If you were female you got to live, and if a male you got thrown into the Nile. Such a royal decree was not the result of any respect for women. It grew out of a fear of the boys growing up to become soldiers or rebels. So it was better to kill them before they could endanger the lifestyle to which you were accustomed. This form of population control is called infanticide. This solution was accompanied with forced labor, “the whole cruel fate of slaves.” Human dignity was given only to the Egyptians and their resident aliens were valued only inasmuch as they provided free labor. All through history the chosen people have been regarded with suspicion and fear. Their fundamental human dignity was denied again and again. In the most recent century they were herded into prison camps by the Nazis, and assigned a number. Calling someone by a name would have given him or her too much respect. These slaves were forbidden to show one another any compassion. It was a capital crime to care for fellow inmates or to sacrifice your food so that they could gain their strength. Injustice and violence has always been the preferred tools of the powerful. When confronted with fear societies dehumanize themselves by denying the dignity of the powerless. Such unjust solutions may have created a certain kind of peace, but ultimately these kinds of behaviors only nurtured more violence and rebellion. Human beings are by nature free and any society in which that freedom is denied will be resisted and overwhelmed. Those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat the past.
Already, the gospel of Saint Matthew has recorded the teaching of the Lord with simple clarity. The Lord Jesus calls blessed the peacemakers. Further, the Lord Jesus has taught his followers to love their enemies. So how can he proclaim, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword.” Many, throughout history to justify socially acceptable violence, have used this seeming contradiction. As the Lord Jesus goes on to explain, with reference to families and the real tension that his teaching will necessarily create, there is no easy peace in our world. Only taking up the cross and loosing one’s life for Christ will enable us to truly live in peace with God and neighbor. These are the difficult lessons we learn here at the altar of the cross. Here we come to know the peace that alone will foster true human dignity and eliminate injustice and violence from human society.