Today’s Gospel (Luke 12:49-53) is a surprise. Today’s Gospel actually is a shocker.
Jesus is the peacemaker, the one who loves unconditionally, the shepherd who never stops looking for the lost sheep and the one who unites. But in today’s Gospel, he declares that he came to set the earth on fire and to divide families.
It’s important to remember that Jesus came during a time when it was dangerous to be a believer in him. And families were split as a result. Imagine what took place whenever someone approached their honorable and faithful Jewish mother and father and stated that that Jesus guy who just came to town is the One, the Savior and the Son of God and that from now on, they were going to follow him. Imagine the look on the faces of the Jewish mother and father. And given that the dominant culture of the time tried to kill anybody who pledged themselves to Jesus, it took a lot of courage and conviction to then pledge yourself accordingly. This was the world in which Jesus made this statement.
He knew that it was going to take a lot of courage and conviction to establish the kingdom and to fight the forces of evil. This was not going to be for the faint of heart because the temptation to quit when it got hard was going to feel overwhelming. He knew this. And the tendency to choose the easier path would be significant. He knew this. And our natural inclination to think about the here and now rather than taking the long view would be prevalent. He knew this.
The antidote? Fire. Blaze. Courage. Conviction.
But then time went by and things changed in society. It wasn’t so difficult to be a Christian. It actually became the norm as church structures and social structures intertwined. Christianity in many places became the culture. And a lot of people proudly proclaimed themselves as Christians.
Fast forward to today. You know the stats. People are dropping out of the church in record numbers. The number of “nones”, i.e., those who state that they are religiously non-affiliated, is growing rapidly. Look around: I’ve been in this parish for 33 years and it seems as though there are less of us in here than there used to be. It’s discouraging.
But remember Jesus’ Gospel message from today, which endures in both its meaning and its impact. He was speaking to his contemporaries a few thousand years ago. He is speaking to you and I today. That early Church, the one that was persecuted and when it was dangerous or even deadly to profess your faith in Christ Jesus… got a lot done. They were effective and they established a church that hit the four corners of the globe, that tackled hunger and poverty and sickness in ways that have been more impactful than any other movement in the history of the world. And they laid the groundwork to make sure that the name and message of Jesus Christ could be proclaimed both far and wide.
Would you rather have 5 people willing to do anything, even risk their lives, for Jesus… or would you rather have 500 fair weather fans who would bail at the first sign of trouble? This is what Jesus was talking about in today’s Gospel.
It’s a Gospel message that is very, very relevant today because today, it’s not always easy being Christian. Even harder being Catholic. And some of our own families are effected by this. Some in our own families might think it’s curious that we come into here on Sundays and believe what we do, or maybe even that we’re misguided, or crazy. They give us the exact same look that that Jewish mother and father did back in Jesus’ time.
Jesus wants to fire test our beliefs because that’s where courage is born. He wants people to tell us we’re off track because that’s where conviction comes from.
He is still trying to build the kingdom and to fight the forces of evil and he needs our help.
However many of us there are, whether this place has 5 or 500 people inside of it… as long as we’re willing to fight for Jesus… well that is all it will take because he will be on our side. Together, we are the best remedy for everything that is wrong in our world. We can help bring the healing that it so desperately needs.
Today’s Gospel is a surprise. Today’s Gospel actually is a battle cry…