Gospel Reading for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Year C)
I wonder if he was tired or angry when Jesus spoke of casting fire upon the earth. He sounds fed up. It's one of those moments when he makes us uncomfortable. When he reminds us that he is not just the smiling, laughing guy sitting with the kids and holding a fluffy lamb. Even that first statement shows that I'm trying to make some sort of excuse for him. "Surely something was bothering Jesus." We're quick to make the teacher more palatable.
Even that whole bit about coming to bring division is disconcerting. Sure, technically when a guy says follow me it necessitates division. People either follow Jesus or they don't. That is a textbook definition of division. Still it rankles. What about peace on earth? What about God so loved the world? I find myself trying to rationalize it. "Surely he meant something else..." And maybe he did mean something else. Or maybe he meant exactly what he said.
And so I sit here, late at night and tired, trying to figure out what to do with the Son of God saying that he came to bring division. Because I feel like the last thing this world needs is a message of separation; a mandate that declares you are either for us or against us. After all, Jesus elsewhere makes the statement that whoever is not against us is for us. Yet here there is fire and division and households turned against one another.
It comes back to that idea that Jesus embodies the Reign of God. His very existence is a dividing wedge. Thus there are those who want to join him in the places where the Kingdom of God busting up through the concrete of this earth. And there are those that would resist. Those that would choose self over selflessness, tribe over humanity, fear over hope, safety over love. By coming into this world, Jesus did bring division. There is no way to skirt around that reality.
And yet the work of uniting is necessitated by the fact that things are separate. I do not see anything in the gospels that suggests Jesus would want us to let divisions reign. Those that follow Christ are called to be women and men of reconciliation. Though Jesus was a dividing wedge, the gospel is a message in which we are called to be reunited to God and, in a way, reunited to one another. Sure, people may hear that message and just build their walls higher. All we can do is continue to seek unity through God's grace, love, and peace.
Jesus was pointing out a reality. I imagine that reality made him angry. There are people that will choose a way that departs from God's Kingdom. Sometimes those people are even the very people who say they follow God. His existence meant division. This is a difficult reality of the world. Yet I think Jesus would challenge us to not let division have the final word.