We continue with Luke's Gospel, which outlines the Lord's idea of discipleship. Today's narrative closes the 12th Chapter which begins with the mission of the disciples and takes us through his description of the Transfiguration, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the story of Martha and Mary and the Lord's teaching on Prayer (the Lord's Prayer). We reach a disturbing ending where Jesus asks a disturbing question.
I have to admit I've always had some difficulty with these words. The Lord asks and answers his own question, without even giving us a chance to answer. And the answer he gives is certainly not one that any of us would have given. Instead, he tells his disciples that he has not come to establish peace, but division. You would think his words would sound more comforting. Are we as confused as they must have been?
Jesus isn’t going to reinforce an artificial peace. He will bring the peace given only to those who love and strive to live in a community of concern for their sisters and brothers. It will be a peace for those who work to tear down walls of division created by a near-sighted world. Those who hear his message are open to the real peace he is offering. But they will have to make serious personal and social changes in their lives, some of which will be enormous shifts in the way they have been living. These will alienate some of those closest to them - perhaps even their own family members.
Religion has become domesticated. Religious leaders are invited to pray at business luncheons, school assemblies and the opening of legislative bodies. But we would not be so welcome were we to speak about unethical business practices, discriminatory election practices and unjust exclusion laws. To do so would certainly cause division and cut us off from families and the alliances we have made and cultivated.
We would rather have Jesus the peacemaker than the disturber of the peace. There will be peace, however it will not come quickly or easily, but at great cost. Jesus has been telling his followers all along that they will receive the same treatment he did. This should not come as a surprise to those of us who have experienced how entrenched evil is in our culture. We worship NEW pagan gods: leaving gifts at the altars of materialism, racism, sexism, etc. As wealthy as our nation is, we still give proportionately less to nations in need than do most of the other industrialized nations. We spend more on ourselves, save more and give less. As a church community, we generously give to the needy but rare are the voices among us that challenge unjust structures both within our nation and within our own church.
We do have to live each day trying to imitate the life of Jesus as perfectly as we can. His ministry flowed from his belief that living in love was living in God. He believed that His intimate understanding of God would be "good news" to all people - that it would bring freedom to those held captive, bring sight to the blind and set the downtrodden free. Look around and try to see the flame of God’s presence. It’s easy to condemn a community for not having a burning faith, or not carrying a bright torch of zeal. But with the eyes of faith, we will notice the fire is far from out. It burns steadily in our community and we witness its effects in many marvelous, though frequently quiet and anonymous ways.
I believe this is the "fire" that He was speaking about. He told us that there is no easy way to bring about the Kingdom of God. It demands purity of heart, a commitment to peace, readiness to forgive, generosity, the endurance of persecution. It means being ready to take the hard road. True discipleship calls for large, loving and generous hearts filled with a burning desire to live as He lived, to serve as He served and to recognize, name and affirm the presence of God's Spirit in people's lives. And to call them to act in concert with this presence.
And maybe that is why Jesus said that He has not come to "bring peace." His message is one that rattles our cage. It shakes us out of our complacency, one that makes us uncomfortable. He lights his fire within us and tells us it is not enough that we just listen and keep these words to ourselves.
This is the only way we will be able to "set the earth on fire" with the "good news."