Not Peace But A Sword

fire and sword

Does Jesus promote division? In what way?

from an ongoing listserv discussion

On Thursday, October 23, 2003, at 08:58 AM, someone wrote:

Following is today’s Gospel reading from the Catholic lectionary. I always find it unsettling. I can see how fundamentalists could apply this to all the division in the world today, with them on Jesus’ side, of course. (Or does he say that he ends up on one side or the other?) Does he mean the separation between the Christians and the Jews is part of God’s plan? What do you all think it means?  

Jesus said to his disciples:Lk 12:49-53″I have come to set the earth on fire,and how I wish it were already blazing!There is a baptism with which I must be baptized,and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?No, I tell you, but rather division.From now on a household of five will be divided,three against two and two against three;a father will be divided against his sonand a son against his father,a mother against her daughterand a daughter against her mother,a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-lawand a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

My reply:  

When I have preached on this passage what stands out for me is that the divisions Jesus promises are precisely not the divisions that confirm people’s prejudices: the us versus them, my household versus your household, my clan versus your clan, people who are like me versus people who are like you. Thus it specifically does not endorse a division between, say, Christians and Jews, or for that matter “Judeo-Chrisitans” and Muslims, especially when these are thought of in terms of ethnic/national/cultural values.

Instead, the division is between those who “have ears to hear” and those who don’t: in simplest terms, between those who seek to love their neighbor as themselves (and even, following Christ’s instruction, to love their enemies) and those who would look out for their own, and their families (and clan and nation’s) interest first.

That’s how I read it, anyhow. But what do I know? I’m just a country preacher. 


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