I'm out of town at the moment, enjoying a few days at my cousin's vacation home in The Hamptons, NY, and so my introductory comments will be brief. As we reflect on the divisions that separate people, it is good to remember the meaning of union/ communion and of God's desire to be one with us. In God's Kingdom, we don't have to be card-carrying club members, nor "people coming from Europe," nor "people who can stand on their own two feet." On the contrary, God has what liberation theology describes as a "preferential option for the poor," extending compassion and mercy to all those in need.
Here in The Hamptons, I have observed a homogenous society made up of the 1% who seem to have everything. I have not seen any panhandlers, beggars or homeless people in The Hamptons; nor have I encountered any minorities in this part of the world, except those who clean house or tend gardens. Most cars on the road are Mercedes, BMW's and Porches and every backyard seems to have a swimming pool, though the ocean is close at hand. Stopping at a local grocery story, I discovered that prices were double those I pay at Whole Foods; we purchased one bag of groceries and the bill-- which my cousin paid- was close to $200.
An invisible wall separates The Hamptons from the rest of NY -- the wall of wealth. During a five mile Uber ride which ended up costing $50, I learned that Uber drivers live outside the community and have to drive in early in the morning if they are to make a living. Our driver explained that the hefty ride charge was because there is a short supply of drivers to service the area and they all come from a distance. No, Uber drivers don't "belong" in The Hamptons: Like strangers in a foreign land, they come from "the other side of the tracks," from "beyond the pale," trying to eke out a living during "high season" when there are more home owners and vacationers in residence. They are a reminder that "the Have's" enjoy unbelievable abundance, while those who "Have Little" work very hard simply to survive.
"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."
In John's account of the Last Supper discourses, Jesus prays that
, just as you are in me and I am in you.
also be in us so that the world
believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that
as we are
(Jn 17:21-26). Unity is definitely an ideal that Jesus cherished and yet if we juxtapose today's Gospel with Jn 17, there seems to be a disconnect between the two texts. So shocking are Jesus' words in Luke 12:49-53 that it is almost inconceivable that the One who preached Love, lived Love and was Love incarnate could actually have uttered them. In this text, the same Teacher who spun parables about Lost Sheep and Good Samaritans, who welcomed sinners, spent time with outcasts, and preached forgiveness, now claims to have come to cause division. How can we reconcile
"Blessed are the peacemakers"
"Do you think I have come to establish peace on earth?"
Perhaps the best way to understand this text is to remember the effects Jesus' presence had on his contemporaries: he preached Love but caused division, not because he
to divide the people, but because his message was "too much" for some, while others immediately left everything to follow him. Like the prophets before him, he disturbed the
threatening vested interests, challenging values, critiquing traditions, and refusing to conform to cultural expectations. His words and actions cut through hypocrisy and through a religious veneer that hid elitism, entitlement, classicism, and mindless worship. Instead, he called his followers to radical trust in God, to an all-inclusive love, to the prayer of intimacy and to forgiveness, even of one's enemies.
Today, the Christian community is divided, not just because of denominational splits over matters of doctrine, ritual and practice, but because of political views; this is true not only in the United States, but across the world. Take, for example, the issue of Gay Rights. There are countries such as the U.K., Malta and Belgium where Gay Marriage is now legal, and countries such as Poland and Spain where the issue has caused discord and internal strife. Each side claims to be right, with one side claiming biblical authority and "family values" for its position, while the other looks to civil rights and humanitarian values for its authority. Then there are other divisive issues -- gun control, the death penalty, the arms race, immigration policies, the environment, abortion.... Again, those on both sides of the issue claim their own "rightness," and, if they are Christian, are likely to believe their vision is aligned with God's.
Both sides dichotomize, thinking in terms of "black and white" while ignoring the shades of grey that so often need to be considered. Within a single household, different viewpoints can lead to hostilities, separating husband from wife, children from parents, siblings from each other, just as Jesus predicted. At the parish level, younger priests tend to be liturgically conservative while their older counterparts uphold the reforms of Vatican II. Even the church hierarchy is divided in terms of whether to follow the lead of Pope Francis or the more conservative policies of prelates such as Cardinal Raymond Burke. Even within the different factions themselves, there is disagreement. Take the issue of abortion. There are those who believe that abortion is categorically wrong, no matter the situation, while others may be "pro life" except in cases of rape and incest; still others may draw the line if a young child is involved -- for example, a nine year old victim of incest who is neither emotionally nor physically mature enough to carry a child.
How, then, should we respond to the burning issues of our day?
In the first place, let's look to the Gospel Jesus to see how he responded to situations involving faith, justice, morals and compassion. Though there is seldom a one-to-one correlation between contemporary events and the events facing Jesus 2,000 years ago, we can observe that he always stood with the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized, no matter their age, gender, religion or social status. Secondly, we learn from the gospels that he placed high value on the traditional Jewish commandments of love of God, self and neighbor, as well as on the Law. Thirdly, he placed Truth and personal integrity above all else-- even personal safety, even life itself. As we approach the issues tearing our nation, families and communities apart, we need to reflect on where Jesus would stand on each particular issue. Of course, we can never know the mind of Christ, but it is always helpful to imagine how Jesus would have approached a particular issue. Armed with this knowledge, we will find the clarity we need to make informed decisions.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
- What do you think Jesus meant in Lk 12:49-53 and do you find his words challenging?
- Have you experienced "division" on account of your beliefs?
- How do you test your beliefs to see whether they're in alignment with Jesus' vision?
- Have you ever had to stand alone against "the majority" because of your convictions?