Jesus Christ: Troublemaker
Click the link for Luke 12:49-56
Jesus promises us a happy ending. But getting there is another story. In this week’s gospel, Jesus tells us: Do you think I came to give peace to the earth. No, I tell you, I came to divide it. To a world awash in sin, Christ announces that he has come to shake things up… big time. Harsh words, but it is not just tough talk. Jesus is accurately predicting the impact his message of love will have on our ego-driven world.
There’s no hidden agenda here. Jesus is telling us plainly that he has come to turn our world upside down. The results will be glorious… but the process won’t always be pretty. After all, we got to the top of the food chain by being tougher than the tigers and slyer than the snakes. As nature’s arch-predators, the human race will not be effortlessly transformed into the loving Body of Christ. Jesus warns us that the world, the flesh, and the devil will not go quietly. Expect plenty of pushback… from strangers, from neighbours, from friends, even from family.
Jesus goes on to tell us: I came to set fire to the world. But that doesn’t mean he wants us to build God’s kingdom by fire and sword. As usual, the pitfall of reading snippets of the gospel is that we easily lose its context. Keep in mind that Jesus was, is and always will be the embodiment of God’s love. As he tells us over and over, his kingdom is not of this world. His call to arms is a call to embrace God’s unconditional love, to live it… to proclaim it.
The conflict he predicts is not a crusade of coerced conversion. Rather it is truly a “holy war” fought out in each individual human heart. It is a rallying cry to follow him… to accept, hold fast and proclaim Jesus as Lord and Savior… all in the face of a cynical “what’s-in-it-for-me” world.
Sometimes our battle will be a clear-cut choice between good and evil… struggling to resist Satan in all his powers and all his guises. More often it will be an ongoing campaign… a war of attrition to erode our faith… to convince us to “be reasonable,” to get along by going along.
Whatever form the struggle takes, clearly living in Christ’s love is not the end of turmoil. It is the beginning. Those who reject Jesus in their own lives often want to purge him from ours… sometimes casually, sometimes actively… often violently.
Sadly, too often, we Christians have a spotty record of meeting these challenges… exchanging blow for blow. Perhaps it’s an answer to some primal “us or them” competitive reflex. Or perhaps, like Adam, we are tempted to usurp the powers of God and work our will on others by any means that comes to hand. All of which flies in the face of Christ’s very specific charge to build the kingdom by loving God and neighbour.
Intimidation will not coerce the kingdom into existence. Sugarcoating his word will not con his kingdom into being. Only with humble and honest witness, through the grace of God, can we love his kingdom into hearts and souls. And despite the turmoil it may induce, you can’t go wrong doing the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way.
Clearly, Christ wants us to be courageous, but not to be bellicose. In today’s context, he wants us to love and respect all of our neighbours… the believers and the non-believers. We are not latter-day Pharisees spoiling for a fight over doctrine. Christ does not keep score by theological arguments won or even by the relative size of our congregations. We are not responsible for results. We are only responsible for serving him and proclaiming him. That means we love and forgive, and then love and forgive some more.
To all, it’s not easy. To many, it’s just crazy. To those of us who faithfully aspire to live in Christ, it is ultimately a hard-won joy… an imitation of Christ… a preview of the serenity of being one with Jesus… sharing his struggle… sharing his sacrifice… sharing his triumphant Resurrection.
In this gospel, Jesus is a self-proclaimed troublemaker. But as he has shown us over and over… eternal life in the love of Christ is well worth the trouble.
God love you!
David F Silery