How does working for peace cause conflict?
How does Jesus who was born to bring ‘Peace on Earth’ cause the divisiveness in today’s gospel?
I’ll give you a clue it does not come from God. The divisiveness comes from us.
In Jesus’ day he went and cared for the sick, healed the lame, gave sight to the blind, even raised the dead. All without asking for or requiring payment - it was charity work.
Let’s look at this in our times today.
Health care. We recently had in this country a bill passed that meant more Americans would have health care.
But this comes at a cost.
Democrats would have you believe that this bill is necessary for those who can’t afford health care.
Republicans would have you believe that this is the end of working for your fair share.
Liberals would have you believe that this is necessary for the common good of all.
Conservatives would have you believe that it is just going to wind up costing us all more in the end by posing the question: when is the last time government did anything efficiently?
Now you all may land at various parts of that political spectrum and share one or more of those views. But the simple premise of health care being a basic human need and that we should not deny people help when they are sick is one that not a single American does not believe – and yet the division exists along who can pay for it, how to pay for it, and who should be responsible.
Jesus was the voice of peace in his day, just as he is that voice today. But while capitalism, socialism, communism, facism or any of the other isms that define our world views today did not exist in Jesus’ time. He came with a simple message help others, love one another, do unto others what you would have had done to you. Jesus railed against the corruption in our natures, the greed of the money changers, the hypocrisy of the religious elite, so much so that those very power structures led to his arrest and crucifixion.
Jesus message was as divisive not because it incited riots, caused wars, or incited people to strap bombs to themselves, it is because his very message strikes at us individually we feel threatened when we see his path, we feel as though we “want all the goodies of everlasting salvation for themselves, but when it comes to the goodies of the day for the needy and exploited, that's political talk they would like the preacher to avoid.”
Or to put it in these terms: “When I give bread to the poor, they call me a saint. But when I ask why the poor have no bread, they call me a communist." (Helder Camara)
We get wrapped up into labels, into the how, into the why, into the what’s in it for me, didn’t I work hard?
Don’t we start to feel like the prodigal son’s brother? The one who didn’t mess up his life – and why should I look out for someone else who did?
The divisiveness in the gospel today comes from our own faults of greed, of self-centeredness.
So what about the fire?
The fire Jesus’ is talking about is the passion for the word. The passion to proclaim the good news, the passion to follow in Christ’s ministry. Not in part, not just on Sunday, but every day, every moment. To step outside of our own self interest.
Has everyone heard of the JetBlue flight attendant this week?
I don’t know what exactly possessed him, but he connected to a passion that enabled him to walk away from something he felt was not working. This is the passion that Jesus is talking about in the gospel today.
We need to step away from what is not working in our lives and follow the life of Jesus. To stand within the flame of his word, the become passionate for the works of God.
Yesterday, I saw a homeless man standing on the side of an exit ramp, holding a sign that said “Tough times, any help appreciated.” I looked at him and then quickly looked away afraid that he might see me. The narrative in my head went this way, “He looks poor, but he could be faking it, maybe he is making a living at freeloading - If I give him money how will I know he will do good with it?” I stopped that narrative and decided then and there that that question did not matter, and started reaching for my wallet. Unfortunately, the light turned green and I had to drive on – I didn’t wind up helping them an at all.
Had I been standing inside the fire of Jesus, I would have been able to help that man- that narrative would not have been were I started.
So I made a commitment at that point. That the contents of my wallet, no matter how much or how little would be given to the next person who asked for help. What can you do today, to take a step inside the fire of Jesus?