Of the four Gospel accounts written by Sts. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, St. Luke’s has been characterized by some scripture scholars as the most beautiful of them all. St. Luke’s Gospel contains accounts of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth, for instance. Mary, the mother of Jesus has a special place in his Gospel. Moreover, St. Luke has a special regard for women, for the hurting, the outcasts, and those who were seen to be at the bottom of the social heap in those days. The tender and compassionate heart of Jesus is prominent in St. Luke’s accounts of His life.
Given that context it’s startling to hear the words in today’s Gospel account (12:49-53) taken from St. Luke. Whatever happened to the Christmas message about peace on earth and good will toward all men and women? How do we understand the words of the Prince of Peace that we just heard in today’s Gospel?
There are those who think of Jesus as being accepting and tolerant in all things and toward all people. The truth is that He was not. Had He accepted anything and everything He would never have been put to death in a horrible crucifixion. His teaching and His way of living enraged the religious and political power brokers of His day. He lived in a time when ties to family were far more important than they are in our culture. So how do we explain the words of Jesus we just heard?
We need to face some issues. Take for instance the assumption made by many that understanding is the equivalent of acceptance. But does the fact that I understand someone mean that I accept whatever he or she thinks and does? Hardly! Nor should you.
Long, long ago a very wise person taught: “In necessary things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things, charity.” That is very wise indeed. But how do we interpret it? Does charity, compassion, understanding, and love require that we accept anything and everything? Does turning the other cheek mean something similar? Hardly!
Compromise is a difficult concept for us, just as love is difficult to live. When should we compromise and when should we not compromise? When should we trouble others or get ourselves in trouble with them, and when not? And just what will we compromise, anyway? Should we ever compromise our beliefs and our values? No, and certainly not in the culture of our day.
When Jesus tells us that He has come to bring division and not peace He’s telling us that peace is not to be found at any price. There is a cost to genuine peace. Anything else is simply the absence of conflict. The long Cold War with the Soviet Communists following the Second World War was merely the absence of armed conflict. We were not really at peace with them.
Some husbands and wives live with each other in a sort of “cold war” with no real peace in their homes. Some families do also.
The problem we have in so many areas of our lives is the problem of causing trouble, particularly when we know that we should confront others. Being a “people pleaser” leads to a lot of internal strife, stress, and eventual emotional depression. Conflict avoidance solves nothing.
When people make fun of our Christian faith, or of our Catholic faith in particular, do we laugh and go along with them, or do we challenge them? When the group we’re in wants to do things we know are wrong, do we simply go along with them? Certain business practices ought to bother us. They need to be challenged. Sexual promiscuity so prevalent in our culture has cheapened the meaning of intimacy. Lots and lots of people are lonely and feel taken for granted because intimacy has lost its value. Its currency has been cheapened because it has been devalued.
When do we stand up for our convictions? So many times we are told that if we stand for our convictions we are being “mean-spirited” and hateful… or that we are prejudiced and divisive… or that we are hypocrites. Does being a Christian, or being an American for that matter, mean that we should let anyone do whatever they want? Expressing our opinions and living by our convictions can get us into to trouble.
We are told that religion and our religious values have no place in the public forum. They are a private matter, we are told. In other words, it’s okay to have moral values but we should keep them to ourselves. But I ask, are there no moral values to be shared as Americans? Is America supposed to be a value free nation?
As Christians we believe in the dignity of human life and the supreme value of every person from the moment they come into being until the moment they die a natural death. To speak of those values in public challenges and upsets others. What was it Jesus said?
From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.
We need to remember that many of the first Christians were martyred because of their values and beliefs. St. Cecelia, St. Lucy, St. Agatha, and other Roman women were put to death for remaining virgins. King Henry VIII beheaded St. Thomas More, Chancellor of England, because More refused to compromise his beliefs. And that division goes on even today as we speak. There are parts of the world today in which Christians are literally being put to death simply for being Christian.
The events surrounding the birth of Jesus are presented to us in lovely words and beautiful images. We need to recall, however, that the Church remembers her first martyr, St. Stephen, the day after Christmas. And on the day after that we remember slaughter of the innocents, that horrific action on the part of King Herod when he ordered the massacre of all the baby boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under in order that he might not be challenged by the King who is greater than all the other kings in the world put together.
Who, then, brings division, hatred, strife, and conflict into our world? God, or humans? Love or jealousy? Good people or people who cannot stand goodness?
You know the answers as well as I do. It’s all a question of what we will stand for.
“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you,” Jesus told us. (John 15:18) Jesus was crucified for a reason and we should always remember that.