In the Catholic Calendar, yesterday was celebrated as the 20th Sunday of the ordinary year, cycle C. Catholics around the world all listened to one of the most disturbing passages of the New Testament (Luke 12:49-53) where Jesus states that He has come to throw fire on earth and contrary to popular thinking that He came to bring peace, He negated that attribute and openly claimed to have come rather, to bring division on earth.
It is certainly disturbing to hear this kind of rhetoric from anyone and must be scandalizing for Christians to hear it from Jesus, the one popularly proclaimed to be the Prince of Peace and preacher of love, peace, love. He even claims that the division he is bringing is such that in a family of five, three will be against two and two against three; father against son and son against father; the mother against daughter and daughter against mother; mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and vice versa.
There are few things, however, that need to be noted to understand what Jesus is teaching here: the first thing to note is that peace is not understood as the absence of war but submission to the same ideology, creed and authority, in other words, peace in this sense is conformity, hence Jesus contrasts it with division and not war. And this peace was usually achieved through political subjugation by the ruler such that the ideology, beliefs, will and way of the ruler become ipso facto those of his subjects; anything outside that was considered insubordination and chaos. In the family, that societal submission to the ruler’s will and way was re-enacted in the submission to the father’s will and way.
This was not what Jesus came to inaugurate. He came to announce the truth of salvation, a truth that was not to be attained through any subjugation or submission or conformity to the will and way of any ruler or father but through the conversion of the heart, every single heart. In this way, yes, it was possible to have in a house, a believing father and an unbelieving son and vice versa, a believing daughter and an unbelieving mother and vice versa, a believing mother-in-law and an unbelieving daughter-in-law. It is this courage to be different, this courage not to conform that Jesus brought. In other words, Jesus came to cause us to differ, to bring division in that sense.
Remember too, that Jesus came to save us from sin, so his followers needed to develop the courage not to conform or submit to such a world of sin from which He was to save them. To achieve this, he needed to cause them to be different, he needed to inject them with the courage to be different, the courage not to be submissive, not to conform, the courage to be converted to the truth of salvation and to walk in the way of that salvific truth, even if it meant standing against the ideology and creed of father, mother, daughter, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, or anybody for that matter, however powerful and however close s/he might have been. This teaching has been extended to all of us who are his followers today: to dare to be different and not conform to the will and ways of the world.
Fr Bitrus Galadima