Lk 12:49-53; Jer 38:4-6.8-10; Heb 12:1-4
“I have come not to bring peace, but division [or a 'sword' to use another translation]”(Lk 12:51). We can often think of Jesus as just being “nice”, being gentle, meek and mild, but not much else. But, sayings like, “division”, remind us that the Lord Jesus was more than just mild. It wasn’t for being mild that they nailed Him to the Cross.
We heard in our first reading how the great prophet Jeremiah was sentenced to death by the king. And in fact almost all of the Old Testament prophets were deeply unpopular men, and many were martyred. Jeremiah was unpopular because he told the people they were sinning by breaking the commandments of God, and he warned them that they would perish in destruction if they did not repent. They didn’t repent, Jerusalem was destroyed, and the people were taken off into slavery.
And Jesus did the same: He also taught people about sin, and demanded that they change their lives, and He warned them about the eternal fires of Hell (Mt 10:28; Mt 13: 41-43; Mt 25:31-46; Mk 9:46; Lk 16:22-28)(–a warning as real today as it was then. And such warnings do not make a man popular. And as the great fulfilment of the line of Jewish prophets, they killed Him just like the killed so many of the prophets.
Jesus came to bring division, to bring “not peace but a sword”(Mt 10:34), not because He loves division, but because He wants to bring about a deeper everlasting peace –a sharing in the peace of Heaven. There is ALREADY a division within each of us, a division caused by the sinful inclinations of our hearts. True peace with God only comes by facing and overcoming that division.
We must do this in our own hearts, but also with others, and this is why Jesus warns that He comes to bring division within family and friends.
If we would cling to Christ, who is our salvation and hope, then we must reject the ways of the world, and we must call on others to do the same. And if we love our friends and family then we must call on them to live the moral life, BECAUSE we love them, not because we do not. Even when this brings division.
So a mother must tell her daughter that it is not right for her to sleep with her boyfriend.
A son must tell his father that he owes it to God to go to Mass each and every Sunday.
A worker must tell his boss that it is wrong for him to fiddle the books.
And among my many tasks, I must tell adulterers that it is wrong for them to live in sin and then just come up to Holy Communion anyway.
Such things do not make us popular. People can deride us as kill-joys, just as they derided Jeremiah and our Lord Himself. But if we cling to Christ’s teaching then we can also expect to cling to His consolation and strength.
I might note, that we must also always seek His guidance in what we say. We must seek not to be imposing our SELF-righteousness on others, but to be calling them to GOD’s righteousness. If it’s GOD’s will, and it is, then HE will help us find the time and the place to say the right thing –but we can’t just take that as an excuse to say nothing.
As we heard in our second reading, St. Paul says, “Let us not lose sight of Jesus”(Heb 12:2), let us keep running steadily in the race of faith that we have begun. Many people do give up in running the race, because the demands seem tough, and sometimes it’s hard to see how it’s possible to live them. But anything good takes working at, and there are many sacrifices needed to win the crown of eternity. “Think of the way [Jesus] [like Jeremiah and the prophets] stood such opposition from sinners and then you will not lack for courage.”(Heb 12:3)
But we must also never forget that the struggle to cast off sin starts and ends in our OWN hearts, it is THERE we must bring division, so that we can throw off the sin that clings so easily to us(Heb 12:1). And if we do so, then the blazing fire of His love will blaze in our own hearts, in the hearts of all freed from sin, and bring us all to perfection.