20th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Aug. 14, 2016
Luke 12: 49-53
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill.
“Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” (Luke 12: 51).
Those sound like strange words coming from the mouth of Jesus, whom we call the Prince of Peace, the one who brings all of humanity together, into unity with his Father.
Peace and unity are indeed his promise. They are possible when we commit ourselves to the Father thru Christ.
Christ tells us, as we pray during our preparation for Communion at every Eucharist, “Peace I leave you; my peace I give you” (John 14:27). Those words come from what he said to the apostles at the Last Supper, where he continued, “Not as the world gives do I give it to you.”
The world offers a kind of peace. 1st-century Roman historian Tacitus described Rome’s conquest of Britain thus: “where they make a desert, they call it peace.” Some of you are old enuf to remember Neville Chamberlain’s assurance in 1938 of “peace in our time,” peace bought temporarily by yielding to Hitler’s territorial demands.
|Bundesarchiv Bild 183-H12751, Godesberg, Vorbereitung Münchener Abkommen.jpg|
There was a peace called “the balance of terror” during the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, the standoff between the Soviet Union and the U.S. when both nations were armed with thousands of nuclear weapons they dared not use but were always ready to launch.
Such isn’t the peace that Jesus offers us, obviously. His peace is one of reconciliation with God, of forgiveness of sins, of restoration of a genuine brotherhood between people. That’s what earns him the title Prince of Peace, and titles like Savior and Redeemer.
But, paradoxically, the way to Christ’s peace involves fighting, battle, unending war—against our own passions, our own selfishness, our own unbounded tendencies to pride, greed, envy, laziness, lust, anger, and gluttony; against our desires for fame and fortune, for pleasure and power. There’s no peace in our hearts till we’ve repented of all that, more or less controlled all that (the work’s never finished in this life), committed ourselves to the beliefs and moral code of Jesus Christ, and surrendered to him our human frailty. St. Paul recognized the source of peace when he wrote to the Corinthians, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (II, 12:10)—admitting his need for the power of Jesus Christ.
But the battle doesn’t end there, unfortunately. When we live as God wants, we’ll be at war with the devil, and thus with the world. The devil tempted Jesus by offering him all the kingdoms of the earth, which are in his power (Luke 4:6). That’s a regular theme in Western literature: the story of Faust in medieval legend, dramas by Marlowe and Goethe, a novel by Thomas Mann, music of Gounod, Wagner, Berlioz, and Stravinsky, and a short story you may have read in school, Stephen Vincent Benet’s “The Devil and Daniel Webster.” (If you didn’t read it, do! It’s a good story.)
|Dr. Faust, by Jean-Paul Laurens|
Our 1st reading told us what the rulers of the kingdom of Judah did to Jeremiah on account of his preaching the word of God in Jerusalem. Jesus warns us today of the unpleasant truth that when we choose him we may be rejected by those closest to us, even our own families. Conversion stories are filled with such examples, from Roman times, when for example fathers denounced their own daughters as Christians because they wouldn’t marry the fellow Pater had picked out for them, to our own times, when conversion to Catholicism may mean that one’s dyed-in-the-wool Protestant or Jewish parents and siblings will never speak to you again—not to mention the reaction that converts from Islam face! You’re all familiar with Thomas More’s story, how he rejected his wife’s and his beloved daughter’s appeals to swear King Henry’s oath and come home, but he refused to violate his convictions.
If we’re fortunate, that kind of division we’ll not have to face. How we wish some politicians had the courage of Thomas More, the patron saint of statesmen, had enuf conviction to bring what they say they believe in private to their making of public policy.
But each of us has to look at how we handle what we used to call human respect—or peer pressure. Would I cheat on my taxes because of some perceived advantage to my family? Would I pressure a son or a daughter to seek an abortion lest the family be embarrassed—or inconvenienced? Would I patronize a porn movie like 50 Shades of Grey or Bad Moms because my friends want to see it? Would I steal office supplies at work because everyone else does? Would I pirate a movie, music, or software because a friend “needs” a free copy? Would I support my child’s decision to enter the seminary or religious life?
Students, do you share your homework or pass around test answers because our classmates expect it? Do you go out drinking because you want to be cool with the guys? Do you look at or share porn because that’s what your “friends” do?
|Separating the sheep from the goats: Matthew 25:31-46|
Yes, Jesus truly has come to cause division—to separate us from our fallenness; to separate those who walk thru what he called the narrow gate that leads to eternal life from those who choose the wide and easy road that leads to hell (Matt 7:13-14); or, following his parable of the Last Judgment in Matt 25, to separate the sheep from the goats on the basis of how faithfully we’ve lived the gospel of mercy and compassion toward one another.
May God assist us to choose and to act wisely, and so find that peace which Christ offers!