The Gospel reading for this Sunday (Lk. 12: 49-53) might make a person very uncomfortable or even troubled. If you have been fed a type of sugar-sweet Jesus most of your life—being presented only with an ultra-compassionate, always-forgiving, never-judgmental savior—then you could seriously doubt that Jesus would ever say such things. One reaction to this Gospel might be to gloss over it quickly. Let’s pretend that it does not exist. This is not the Jesus I know. He is merciful, forgiving, and patient. He prays in St. John’s Gospel (17:21) “that they all may be one. . . .” He would never want any division among us.
There’s a problem when we do not see the more complete picture of Jesus as presented in the Gospels. Jesus is the one who called the scribes and pharisees a brood of vipers (Mt. 12:34), hypocrites and white-washed tombs (Mt. 23: 27). He told us to pluck out our eyes and to cut off our hands (Mt. 5: 29-30) to avoid sin. He made a whip out of cords and overturned the money changers tables in the temple (Jn. 2: 13-16). He called Peter, his close friend, “Satan” and told him to get behind Him (Mt. 16:23). In the Gospel this Sunday, He speaks about casting fire on the earth and creating division—even within families.
How we react to Jesus’ teaching might just depend on how we are living our lives. Jesus sometimes has to jolt people out of complacency or erroneous thinking. “You are thinking not as God does but as human beings do.” (Mt. 16:23) He requires a radical change in our way of living when we are headed to eternal destruction. “Go [and] from now on do not sin any more.” (Jn. 8: 11) He demands things from us that are not appealing. “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and pick up his cross daily and follow me.” (Lk. 9:23) One thing that can be determined upon thorough investigation: Jesus was not some pushover and his teaching inevitably made an impact on people. “ . . . For he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.” (Mt. 7: 29)
Jesus’ chosen path to freeing us from sin and eternal damnation was through the cross. It involved suffering and a sacrificial love. It involved the Son of God being put to death by His creatures. His life and teaching cast a fire upon the earth. He jolted those who were complacent in their sin. He upset the status quo and the religious leaders of His time. And some totally resented Him. Some wanted to see Him dead. Crucify Him! Crucify Him!
The reaction today to Jesus’ teaching and to his actions can and does create division in families, in communities, and in nations throughout the world. The call to conversion and repentance does not necessarily bring peace to those resistant to change. People can become very, very comfortable in their sin. Nobody is going to tell me what to do. Some might follow Him, while others reject Him. His moral requirements require a decision from us. If one tries to straddle the fence, it promises not to go well. “I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev. 3: 15-16)
Does Jesus’ teaching upset you?
Fr. Ed Namiotka