Posts Tagged ‘8-14-2016’

Division 8-14-2016

Sunday, August 14th, 2016

My initial response to today’s Gospel reading is to resist it. I find it very difficult to think of Jesus as a divisive person. It is much easier for me to regard him as a healer of human relationships. I have seen too many fragmented families and felt their pain. When fathers and sons cannot even be civil to one another, it is very sad. And when mothers and daughters stop speaking to each other, it is heartbreaking. How can we believe that Jesus is the source of such division?
In most cases, it is clear that he is not. Something else is ripping the family apart. My sense is that, if given the chance, Jesus would heal the alienation in such a home. And I am sure that he is not pleased with the division of the people involved. A little three-year-old girl, who could not yet pronounce her “r” sounds, said to a friend, “My mommy and daddy ah sepawated.” Do you think our Lord caused that? Do you think he is pleased with that? Not a chance in the world. I have no doubt that he weeps with that child.
Still the words of today’s Reading cannot be denied. Jesus clearly said: “Do you think I have come to establish peace on earth? I assure you the contrary is true. I have come for division.”
What then, is the meaning of these strange words about division?
It is obvious that Jesus did not get along with everybody. He did not walk around with a smile plastered on his face, spreading the good will everywhere. Otherwise, how did he manage to get himself crucified? Why did he tell his disciples that the world would hate them, just as it had hated him?
He was often in conflict. And almost always, the dividing line was the sacredness of human person. The people of his own home town wanted to kill him. What was the source of that conflict? It was his insistence that God cared for Gentiles just as he did for Jews. He often clashed with the Pharisees about healing on the Sabbath. The issue that drove them apart was his conviction that helping people was more important than keeping the law. He came to the rescue of a woman who had been caught in adultery. The guardians of public morality were ready to stone her to death. Again, the issue was keeping the law or helping people. And he always came down on the side of helping people.
Jesus resisted abuse of others with all the intensity of his soul. He even died for it. Robert Louis Stevenson put it like this: “It is our cheek that we are to turn. But when another’s face is struck, perhaps a bit of the lion would become us best.”
You and I have no right to stand by and watch the strong trample on the weak. We are to take a stand, even if the abuser is a member of our own family. People have done that. And it has driven a wedge between them and the ones they love. A young man was making a determined effort to live out his Christian faith. His father was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. The son confronted him and said: “What you are doing is wrong. And I must resist it.” His father ordered him out of the house and never spoke to him again.
Something like that is what Jesus had in mind, when he said, “I have come for division.” The sacredness of the human person is the only issue I can conceive of where it is wrong to compromise.
In closing, it is easy to talk of “Jesus meek and mild,” and to portray the infant in the crib as lovable, and the Crucified One as forgiving. It is easy to criticize and oppose evildoers on the other side of the world, people like Hitler and Saddam Hussein. It is by no means so easy to take a stand on moral issues right at home which divide our society. But we cannot avoid the cutting edge of the gospel or the commitment that goes along with our baptism. We cannot accept, nor should we live by, a cushioned Christianity, a velvet cross, a vertical expression of faith concerned only with “God and myself.” Nor can we exclude those neighbors we don’t like. Christian life and witness is difficult. In fact, it would be impossible without the example of Jesus, and the grace of God.
Lord, give us the courage to follow you – even though it causes us to struggle – even though it causes us to be persecuted – even though, sometimes, it sets us in opposition to our families & friends & society – let us never forget that there is actually one thing worse than evil itself, and that is indifference to evil. Amen.