Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (Matthew 10:16-42) transports me to a Birmingham jail in the spring of 1963, where Martin Luther King was serving time for his participation in a non-violent rally there. Having read an open letter from eight white Alabama clergymen, calling the demonstrations untimely and unwise, he began composing his response letter on the only thing he could find to write on, the margins of a newspaper. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to so dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.
Christ could certainly have penned that same letter, as he held no fear of the word “tension” and dramatized issues of mercy and justice in a way that pitted brother against brother. Sweet Jesus counseled serpentine shrewdness as he shed his peacekeeper skin and started mongering strife, wielding a divisive sword that separated mothers from daughters and fathers from sons. The Lord was quite an in-tense character. This passage raises some serious questions, especially for those of us nonviolent direct action practitioners who pray and work for the peace of Christ to rule the world. One question is, what kind of family does Jesus create opposition in and divide? Perhaps Jesus stirs up and disrupts families captive to codependent lifestyles, who know of no other way to live, who can see no other pattern of life other than the familiar one that maintains a false and fragile peace. Another question is, what kind of division was Jesus bringing to these families? Think about that word, division. It literally means two visions. Jesus is bringing the sharp Word into families that are captive to one vision, a destructive vision. It is a tunnel vision preventing people from seeing any way to live other than to conform to expected roles and behaviors maintaining systems of unhealthy behavior. And in slicing through that family, Jesus is giving them a second vision, a gospel vision, a vision of health and wholeness, a vision of true and enduring peace. The sword of Jesus creates a precision cut that creates competing visions between the world and the Kingdom. The incision of the sword provides an alternative vision, allowing the possibility of decision. We can choose the gospel Way once we have seen it; we can see our way clear of the tunnel once that new Way has been spoken into reality for us to hear and see.
Jesus envisions two tracks diverging in the field of family relations, causing fathers and sons and mothers and daughters and brothers and sisters to choose which train to board. Jesus promises a special reward to those brave souls who board the soul train on the rail less traveled. Speaking of soul trains: at the same time Martin Luther King was writing his Letter from Birmingham Jail, a young journalist inspired by the civil rights movement, Don Cornelius, was starting work at the newly formed WVON radio station in Chicago, which would later launch the 35-year run of Soul Train. Given this passage’s focus on the family, bonus points for anyone who knows the title of the Soul Train theme song, (clue – it has something to do with brotherly love), and more bonus points for anyone who knows the name of the band, (clue – it has something to do with family). Peace Out.
*Daily Passages are the weekday reflections of Stan Dotson, connecting culture to biblical texts. Each week takes its guiding theme for the daily posts from the gospel reading on Monday, the “Primary Passage.” This week’s theme is “Division.” As always, your feedback and comments are welcome. Feel free to share where the passages take you in your journey of faith.