Today’s Gospel might startle us if our image of Jesus has been formed by selective catechesis and listening rather than attentiveness to the whole Gospel, which is far more complex and startling than soft textbook illustrations and gentle Tweets might let on.
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were blazing already! There is a baptism I must still receive, and how great is my distress till it is over!‘Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on a household of five will be divided: three against two and two against three; the father divided against the son, son against father, mother against daughter, daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law, daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’
Anyone who has even the slightest knowledge of Christ’s Gospel knows that it is a message of peace par excellence; as St Paul wrote, Jesus himself “is our peace” (Eph 2: 14), the One who died and rose in order to pull down the wall of enmity and inaugurate the Kingdom of God which is love, joy and peace.
So how can his words be explained? To what was the Lord referring when he said he had come – according to St Luke’s version – to bring “division” or – according to St Matthew’s – the “sword” (Mt 10: 34)?
Christ’s words mean that the peace he came to bring us is not synonymous with the mere absence of conflicts. On the contrary, Jesus’ peace is the result of a constant battle against evil. The fight that Jesus is determined to support is not against human beings or human powers, but against Satan, the enemy of God and man.
Anyone who desires to resist this enemy by remaining faithful to God and to good, must
necessarily confront misunderstandings and sometimes real persecutions.
All, therefore, who intend to follow Jesus and to commit themselves without compromise to the truth, must know that they will encounter opposition and that in spite of themselves they will become a sign of division between people, even in their own families. In fact, love for one’s parents is a holy commandment, but to be lived authentically it can never take precedence over love for God and love for Christ.
And yet Christ is our peace, according to the Scriptures. “He has broken down the middle wall: He has united the two people in one now man, so making peace: and has reconciled both in one body unto the Father.” He has united the things below to them that are above: how therefore did He not come to give peace upon earth? What then say we to these things? |439
That peace is an honourable and truly excellent thing when given by God. For the prophets also say; “Lord, grant us peace: for You have given us all things.” But not every peace necessarily is free from blame: there is sometimes, so to speak, an unsafe peace, and which separates from the love of God those who, without discretion or examination, set too high a value upon it. As for instance: the determination to avoid evil men. and refuse to be at peace with them;—-by which I mean the not submitting to entertain the same sentiments as they do;—-is a thing profitable and useful to us. And in like manner the opposite course is injurious
to those who have believed in Christ, and attained to the knowledge of His mystery: to such it is unprofitable to be willing to follow the same sentiments as those who wander away from the right path, and have fallen into the net of heathen error, or been caught in the snares of wicked heresies. With these it is honourable to contend, and to set the battle constantly in array against them, and to glory in holding opposite sentiments; so that even though it be a father that believes not, the son is free from blame who contradicts him, and resists his opinions. And in like manner also the father, if he be a believer, and true unto God, but his son disobedient and evilly disposed, and that opposes the glory of Christ, is also free from blame, if he disregard natural affection, and disowns him as his child. And the same reasoning holds with respect to mother and daughter: and daughter-in-law and mother-in-law. For it is right that those who are in error should follow those who are sound in mind: and not, on the contrary, that those should give way whose choice is to |440 entertain correct sentiments, and who have a sound knowledge of the glory of God.
And this Christ has also declared to us in another manner; “He that loves father or mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me: and he that loves son or daughter more than Me, is not worthy of Me.” When therefore you deny an earthly father for your piety’s sake towards Christ, then shall you gain as Father Him “Who is in heaven. And if you give up a brother because he dishonours God, by refusing to serve Him, Christ will accept you as His brother: for with His other bounties He has given us this also, saying; “I will declare Your Name unto My brethren.” Leave your mother after the flesh, and take her who is above, the heavenly Jerusalem, “which is our mother:” so will you find a glorious and mighty lineage in the family of the saints. With them you will be heir of God’s gifts, which neither the mind can comprehend, nor language tell. Of which may we too be counted worthy by the grace and loving-kindness of Christ, the Saviour of us all; by Whom and with Whom, to God the Father be praise and dominion, with the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever, Amen.