We like to think of Jesus as being a “nice guy.” He cured people; he raised the dead to life; he welcomed little children. But in the Gospel of Luke (12:49-53), Jesus is anything but nice. He reminds his disciples that his mission was to spread division. We think of Jesus as the Prince of Peace, but that is not to be.
When we follow the Lord, chances are someone is going to become upset. Someone will not want us to succeed in living up to the Gospel. Dissension may even occur within our own families. Moreover, it won’t be pretty. There is an old saying, “Don’t discuss religion or politics at the dinner table.” How many of us have been witness to a family gathering gone bad when someone decided to talk about God or political candidates?
Some people feel that this saying should also apply to the pulpit. It’s okay to talk about God as long as the preacher doesn’t say anything controversial or hurtful. As a result, sometimes homilies and sermons become love fests: “Just love one another and all will be right in the world,” is the kind of sermon people like. Heaven forbid that the preacher should challenge the congregation to abandon sinful behavior or to engage in social justice. No, a preacher should stick to the “love talk” and leave the uncomfortable topics like sexual morality, abortion, tithing, politics, etc., to be spoken of in other venues. This is especially true if the preacher is of one viewpoint and his or her congregation is of another.
If you get an opportunity, there is an old film that stars Jack Lemmon and Charles Durning called “Mass Appeal.” In it, the young idealistic seminarian challenges his popular middle aged pastor and congregation to live the Gospel message. The film is quite good and makes one think about how one should preach as well as hear the Gospel.
On this twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jesus reminds us that the Gospel is not for the faint of heart. Jeremiah and the other prophets suffered because they challenged the people of God to live God’s Word. So the next time, you hear a preacher say something that makes you uncomfortable, ask yourself the question: “Is this God’s way of getting me to pay closer attention?” And then ask a secondary question, “Why does this message make me uncomfortable?”