Greetings, SBT Readers!
The world is ablaze with fire, but not with the purifying fire to which Jesus alludes in today's Gospel. Rather, this is a destructive fire than burns, destroys, obliterates, annihilates. Fueled by narcissism, greed, intolerance, the desire for power, and an addiction to violence, this fire consumes everything in its path, creating a wasteland where once before there were vibrant communities, rich cultures, harmonious neighborhoods. The land burns, habitats disappear, death falls from the skies, and mangled corpses litter city streets and deserted forests. We have no need of prophets to know that this is a time of unprecedented danger -- not just for living generations but for generations yet to come.
The challenge for each of us is to remember that the "inner work" of transformation is something to which each of us can commit -- and that when one of us has a "mind-shift " and truly aligns with Gospel values, then something "shifts" in the universe and peace on earth becomes just a little bit more possible...
Jesus said to his disciples:
"I have come to set the earth on fire,
and how I wish it were already blazing!
There is a baptism with which I must be baptized,
and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!
Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.
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."
Lk 12: 49-53
For many families, there are topics that are strictly taboo around the dining room table, especially in the presence of guests. Politics, religion, finances, sex and abortion are the main subjects to avoid if one wishes to avoid conflict. Some might say that engaging guests or family members on hot topics will allow for a meeting of minds, but, invariably, the opposite happens. One person might speak disparagingly about a politician only to discover that others not only voted for this individual but are also fanatical devotees. Someone else might make a passing comment about the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade and suddenly there is an explosive debate which escalates by the minute. Yet another individual may complain about a disappointing bonus, oblivious to the fact that other guests are barely surviving on unemployment... All it takes is a few careless words for the party to be over.
When we think of the Gospel Jesus, we tend to see him as the teacher, preacher, healer, and miracle worker -- not as a source of division. Most of us imagine that the Good Shepherd, the Prince of Peace, will bring peace and harmony, yet Jesus contradicts this view, identifying instead with the forces of discord: "Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division" (Lk 12:51). On the surface, it may seem that these words are totally out of character, but if we probe more deeply, Jesus is not promoting division but pointing out that his message will meet with such strong acceptance or rejection that this will tear apart families. Going back to the analogy of the family table, we can see how this might play out. Jesus' teachings on love of neighbor might prompt one family member to have an inclusive world view while another clings to bigotry; or his words on forgiveness might lead one person to reach out to an estranged relative while the rest of the family smolders with hatred. Unless everyone in the family thinks the same on every issue, there will inevitably be conflict.
This conflict, however, goes beyond differences in political views and social awareness; rather, it means that we either have "the mind of Christ" or we don't. We either stand on the side of love, truth, forgiveness, peace, trust, generosity and justice, or we embrace hatred, lies, revenge, warmongering, doubt, selfishness, and injustice. Like Jeremiah, we either align ourselves with God's Word, or we spew out whatever is convenient, self-serving, and acceptable to others. Sadly, in speaking God's Word there is often a price -- as Jeremiah discovers even before his fellow citizens cast him into the cistern:
"...I am worn out in your service,
bones twisted by the stocks
and iron collar--
recompense for madman
flesh racked, stoned
and shamefully scourged,
heart broken by family, friends
and that whore, Judah."
That same Word, however, is a purifying fire, a perfecting blaze, a transformative baptism into holiness and wholeness. We, like Jeremiah, might end up in the cistern for speaking Truth, but at some point we, too, will behold the Light again. Just as Ebed-melech and his men liberate the imprisoned prophet, so God will uphold us when our "households" are torn apart and we are too numb to pray for deliverance.