“I bring division, father against son, mother against daughter, and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” Wow! This sounds like Jesus snuck into a Schmidt family gathering!
This is not the “Blessed Jesus, meek and mild”, not the Jesus as everyone’s friend. The Jesus of today’s Gospel seems harsh, direct. We like the healing, forgiving, caring Jesus. The Jesus who leaves us his peace. This Jesus sounds more like John the Baptist on a bad day, warning us to make straight the path, you vipers!
Jesus is speaking very bluntly, even calling the crowd, “hypocrites,” because he wants us to get it. Something very important is happening here, and we better pay attention! This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no foolin’ around!
This is Jesus’ call to action, a call for understanding who he is, what he is doing, and what we who follow him are being asked to do. It’s an awakening to the real, mature spirituality to which we are called. Jesus wants us to know what we’re getting into. And it’s often not pretty.
Jesus, being fully human as well as fully divine, knows his time is short. His life will soon be over, and there’s still so much more to do. Many of his followers thought he came to overthrow Roman rule, assume earthly authority, and set up God’s Kingdom. Indeed, this view of Jesus persisted through the time of Paul and the early church.
For us, two thousand years later, it’s obvious the plan was for something else. Yes, I believe Jesus came to bring about the Kingdom of God, and I believe that’s what he did. Or, rather, I believe he gave us all we need to build that new Kingdom. Jesus taught us lessons and gave us a living example of the radical hospitality needed for that kingdom. Not just tolerance and acceptance, but actively seeking out and welcoming those who are not like us, those who we do not want to be like. It’s reaching out to those we might consider dangerous, or those who, for us, are just too much trouble.
The work of building that Great Kingdom also involves our acknowledging our own neglect of, and damage done to, our physical world, our island home. We have work to do in repairing what we’ve done to the environment in the name of progress. We have work to do in repairing the damage we have done to the indigenous people around the world to gain that progress.
To build this Great Kingdom we need to acknowledge the neglect and abuse of each other, which we have actually built into our systems of government and our societal rules and regulations.
To build this Great Kingdom, people like me need to acknowledge our unearned privileges of being white, male, heterosexual and able-bodied. Privileges we did not earn, but we enjoy because people like me wrote and enforce the rules. Privileges which we use every day to judge and characterize others who are different from us.
Blessed Jesus, meek and mild. Jesus the comforter and healer, that’s the Jesus we want to worship and claim as our own. This sanitized Jesus is who we want to emulate because he fits into our plans, fits into our world view. It’s easier to make that Jesus fit our world, than it is to try to change our selves to match the teachings and example of Jesus.
But it’s that difficult Jesus we need to seek out, Jesus the dark-skinned Palestinian Jew. We need to look for that Jesus, who came to disrupt the old patterns of oppression and fear. We need to hear that Jesus who calls us hypocrites because we want the liberation, healing and comfort of God’s Kingdom, but we don’t want to change ourselves to help bring it about.
My friends, the division to which Jesus calls our attention in today’s Gospel is not only between the haves and the have-nots, but it exists in the separation of isolating nations, producing war. It is evident in societies and groups who separate us from each other because of race, religion, sexuality, or some other man-made and imposed distinctions.
This division exists even in our faith communities, when one claims that they, alone, have the one true faith. It exists where rules and hierarchy encourage exclusion, secrecy and mistrust.
And the separation exists in our own hearts. We have lived so long in a broken world that it seems easier to accept injustice than to work against it. And it is, unless the injustice is against you. Martin Luther King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We must face up to the injustices we perpetuate, and the injustices we tolerate in our lives.
This is what Jesus is calling us to in today’s Gospel. The truth of God’s Kingdom cannot be built on the lies and injustice of humanity.
Jesus is the activist, canvassing the streets, forcing us to look at what is being done in our name and with our acquiescence. His job is to separate us from the complacency, the acceptance of the injustice in our lives. Yes it is uncomfortable to face the ugly truth. Yes, it’s hard to take a stand against it. It’s not easy to go against the flow, to disrupt an accepted system no matter how corrupt. Our taking action will cause us to lose friends. Family members may not understand what we’re trying to do.
But what new friends we will make! How full and complete our lives will become as we begin to live out the teachings of Jesus, which we profess to do. Jesus teaches us that, where human justice is based on guilt, God’s justice is based on love. And it is through our embrace of that loving justice that we can live out our calling.
Micah tells us, “and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Sisters and brothers, in about ten weeks we will be choosing new leadership for our country. As you think and pray about your decision, and as you discuss it with others, keep this idea of God’s justice on your mind and in your heart.
Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.