“Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”
Jesus’ statement from last Sundays’ Gospel reading reminds me of the line from the movie They Live when the unnamed drifter played by Roddy Piper enters the bank and says, “I’m here to chew bubble gum and kick [EDITED], and I’m all out of bubble gum.”
It seems so aggressive, so negative and hopeless, that it captures our imagination because of how atypical a comment it is for Jesus, the reconciler, the Prince of Peace, to make.
So how are we to understand this? Well, for one thing, I think we need to consider tone of voice. It’s one thing for Jesus to say this with pleasure and vigor, it’s another to hear with regret and sadness. It is the latter that I believe Jesus is actually using, because he is acknowledging compassionately, sympathetically, that bringing Jesus into your life and become a disciple may mean, will mean, that you will be at odds with other people, even those closest to you.
Many of us have had the experience of being a family gathering, e.g. a Thanksgiving dinner, and having the conversation turn to politics or religion or some other sensitive context and finding that your own beliefs, informed by the love and Gospel of Jesus Christ, put you at odds with someone else (even someone who identifies as a Christian). This is a painful, awkward, troubling place to be. And in this passage, Jesus is telling us that not only does he know and understand the inevitability of that, but he loves and will support us during those trying times. Discipleship is not always easy, especially when it involves those closest to us, but Christ is our strength and our support during those times.
Yours in Christ,