While Jesus is the “Prince of Peace,” he and his disciples could not avoid conflict (Isaiah 9.6). They fought over who was the greatest among them (Matthew 18.1-5). Martha dragged Jesus into a fight with her sister Mary, essentially telling Jesus to tell Mary what she wanted her to do (Luke 10.38-42). And let’s not forget the many heated discussions that Jesus had with the religious leaders of his day. He was not one to avoid confrontation or challenge. Some might even say he was a troublemaker as he faced questions head on and called the religious leaders as he saw them: hypocrites, white- washed graves, snakes even (Matthew 23). Ouch.
Jesus was even in conflict with himself in the garden of Gethsemane. He wrestled in prayer with his purpose: “And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want’” (Matthew 26.39, NRSV). A member of the Trinity, even he could not avoid disagreement.
Still, we are most comfortable with the kicking, cooing baby Jesus. God with us in a manger. But, God was with us in the temple, turning over tables (Matthew 21.12-13). No business meeting and no vote, Jesus decides to disrupt their regularly scheduled program. It’s his house. Period.
So, why is it that we pretend our churches are without conflict? If Jesus was turning over tables, why do we pretend that we always turn the other cheek? And why don’t we discuss the conflict that he brings to our lives by necessity of the gospel? Conflict is normal, natural, healthy and to be expected as Jesus does not promise a trouble- free life. In fact, he offers just the opposite, sending them out as “sheep among wolves” (Matthew 10.16-23).
Still, Jesus calls those who make peace blessed (Matthew 5.9). The Apostle Paul called it a ministry and charge the members of the church at Corinth and us as ministers of reconciliation (Second Corinthians 5.18-19), which is why the Office of Empowering Congregations offers regular trainings on conflict management, forgiveness and reconciliation. Because conflict is not to be avoided but can be a source of personal and communal transformation.