Jesus as bearer of division

Al Cariño, OMI
Editor: Mindanao Cross
Reproduced with Permission

20th Sunday in ordinary times

History tells us that one of the earliest discoveries of humankind is how to make fire and use it to his advantage. This ushered in the Iron Age when people began making iron tools and implements which enabled them to gradually abandon their nomadic life and settle down as farmers — the beginning of villages, town and cities.

Fire can be useful or destructive. It can be used to cook our meals or to burn the kitchen along with the house. It can be used to run the engines of industry or to produce weapons of war, including the most destructive weapon of all — the nuclear bomb. History tells us that we had made many wrong choices. Just a couple of weeks ago, we commemorated the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki which were leveled to the ground 56 years ago. This folly had so etched itself in our consciousness that we now utter the collective cry, “Never again!”

In the Old Testament, fire is the symbol of the judgment of God on people who either lived by His Word or not. Just as fire separates the dross from the gold, keeping the Word of God separates good people from bad.

In the gospel reading (Lk. 12:50-53), Jesus makes use of fire to tell us why He had come: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!... Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” He added, “From now on a household will be divided,” i.e., father against son, mother against daughter and mother–in–law against daughter–in–law — for or against Him.

At first, we may find this pronouncement difficult to reconcile with the other statements made about and by Jesus. He was called Prince of Peace by the prophet Isaiah and He Himself said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Mt. 5:9). Now He is saying that He would set the earth on fire and bring about division!

Along this line, Jesus, aside from being king and priest, is also a prophet. In the Old Testament, the false prophet is recognized by his desire to please the audience, specially the rulers. On the other hand, the true prophet — then and now — proclaims the Word of God to his contemporaries, regardless of the consequences — which were often tragic. His proclamation should make us look into ourselves and discover that we may be our first and worst enemy. For it is our evil desires and deeds that may have kept us from living according to God's Word. It is in this context that Jesus' coming and teachings would set the earth on fire and bring about division across the entire social strata.

Moreover, we must realize that the peace Jesus wishes to bring is Himself. As St. Paul says, “He is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh” (Eph. 2:14). Because His loyalty is only to the Father, His kind of peace disturbs the status quo; it does not represent the perpetuation of the establishment. This is why Jesus was such a threat to the Pharisees and Sadducees — His Person and teachings would upset the entire social order. Realizing this, Caiaphas the High Priest said at the trial of Jesus that it was better “that one man (Jesus) should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish” (Jn.11:50).

Being endowed with intellect and free will, each of us is capable of making choices. Jesus is now asking us to use these faculties to make our choice: For or against Him. There is no in–between: “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters” (Mt. 12:30). And our choice will have eternal repercussions: Live according to His Word and we will be assured of eternal life or go against His Word and we will suffer the eternal fires of hell. And His Word will be our judge: “There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day” (Jn. 12:48).

What should motivate us to keep Jesus' Word? In the second reading (Heb 12: 1–4), St. Paul tells us, “Let us persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.” Then he adds, “For the sake of the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God.” With these words, St. Paul is asking us to make Jesus our model as we run the race of life. Jesus endured the cross and its shame in view of the “joy that lay before him.” We should ours, too. He received the glory of His triumph by His obedience to the will of His Father. We would, too, if we live by God's Word.

Let us then make our choice for Jesus and reaffirm it daily in thought, word and deed. Then the “joy that lay before him” will be ours.