Today’s Gospel is one of those passages that seems to contradict the picture of Jesus we might have painted in our minds.
“Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.
Wait a minute? What happened to the Prince of Peace? The Jesus we hear from today doesn’t seem to fit the “be nice to everyone” Jesus we all know and love.
From now on a household of five will be divided,
three against two and two against three;
a father will be divided against his son
and a son against his father,
a mother against her daughter
and a daughter against her mother,
a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law
Hm. Makes you want to squirm, right?
Well, maybe that’s his intent. Maybe he wanted to correct a misunderstanding. The passage is within a great section where Jesus is speaking about the urgency of living the Gospel. If you know the Master’s will, you’d better do it, and do it now. No delaying, no waiting. If you read the end of the twelfth chapter of Luke, you can almost hear Him getting worked up as he talks to his apostles, finally culminating in:
“I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!
I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished!
Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division;
So is he still the Prince of Peace? Yes, but not perhaps the peace the way we want to define it. I am reminded of the classic scene from The Princess Bride:
Often when we think of peace, we think of something more like appeasement. Don’t create waves, don’t hurt anyone, don’t judge anyone, just keep the peace.
But similar to the modern misunderstanding of mercy (which I wrote about here), I don’t believe this modern understanding jives with the biblical understanding. Neville Chamberlain might have announced that he had secured “peace for our time,” but we all know that peace was a mere appearance that had no lasting impact. It was comfortable for him, it was non-confrontational, but it wasn’t real.
To be Christian means to make waves. Why? Because to follow Christ means embracing a life that’s counter-cultural and has been since the very beginning. After all, the Prince of Peace and Lord of Love also told us:
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
He wouldn’t win many points as a motivational speaker, would he? Wow. “Hey, guys, if you listen to me, everyone’s going to hate you!” Honestly, what a way to win followers. If he wasn’t the Son of God, who would follow this guy?
Christ’s message IS one of peace, love, mercy, goodness, but not necessarily by the world’s definition of those things. This means that we have our work cut out for us. It’s not enough to preach Jesus Christ, we also have to explain to our modern world what the Gospel means. Some will accept it, even though truly understanding and obeying the Gospel is usually rather uncomfortable. Others won’t accept it, because it’s too demanding, too counter-cultural, too odd.
But be consoled. St. John apparently had difficulty, too. No one wanted to listen to the truth of the Gospel then, either:
Little children, you are of God, and have overcome them; for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are of the world, therefore what they say is of the world, and the world listens to them.
We are of God. Whoever knows God listens to us, and he who is not of God does not listen to us.
The Gospel causes division. Why? Because it’s not as much this: