It’s my birthday today! So, where better to spend it than here with you? Before we get to the cake, I’ve a question for you: Why did Jesus come? Don’t worry, I’m not going to put you on the spot. Here are some of the reasons that Jesus himself gave:
- That they may have life and have it abundantly – John 10:10
- To do the will of the one who sent me – John 6:38
- As light, so that people would not remain in darkness – John 12:46
- To bear witness to the truth – John 18:37
- To proclaim good news to the poor – Luke 4:18-19
- Not to be served but to serve – Mark 10:45
- To give my life as a ransom for many – Mark 10:45
- To seek and save the lost – Luke 19:10
They’re all great answers and it would be a good theme for a Bible Study wouldn’t it? But instead of any of those, today we get: “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you but rather division!” So, to whoever did the preaching rota, thank you for giving me the birthday present of this reading!
Them’s the breaks
But ‘them’s the breaks’, as someone, in more need of a hairbrush than I am, once said. And thanks a lot for that, Jesus. We do a good enough job when it comes to division without any outside help. Whether it’s bickering parents or pestering children or which political party or candidate we support or which football team… judgements are made, opinions formed, sides taken and divisions are created.
So, the Gospel today, the ‘good news’, is that Jesus came to bring division and that may mean division to families… What do we do with that?
Maybe I should have picked one of the other readings? Believe me, I looked. But this passage kept on nagging and saying: “you can’t ignore me”.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised by Jesus’ words. All the way back in Luke 2, Simeon prophesied that Mary’s soul will be pierced by a sword. Later, Jesus’ relationship to his own family seemed dysfunctional at times. His mother and his brothers turn up at one of his public events only to be told that his real family are the ones journeying with him to Jerusalem and the cross.
He publicly rejects, perhaps humiliates, his own human family. Instead, he gathers around him a rag tag bunch of tax collectors and prostitutes and political extremists – and people who smell ever so slightly of fish.
He even tells people that anyone who leaves their family for him is blessed by God and not to bother burying their parents. An outrageous suggestion, then as now. And that’s the ‘good news’??
Well surprisingly, yes, it is. I think Jesus is saying something here about identity and how we understand ourselves. At the time of the Gospel, a person’s identity was largely the product of the family that you were born into. The son of a fisherman became a fisherman, the son of a carpenter became a carpenter.
That was part of the problem faced by Jesus. “Aren’t you the son of Joseph, from Nazareth?” really meant “what gives you the right to do anything other than make tables and chairs?” Carpenter’s sons weren’t Messiahs. They were carpenters.
And best of luck if you were a woman. As a girl you would be given in marriage to whomever the family decided for you. Family was so important that they thought even sin could be inherited. That’s why Jesus got asked who in the family had sinned for a younger member to be deaf or mute or blind or lame.
Jesus is throwing all that out. It eventually helped to get him killed because the family unit was so central. He caused deep offence. As a human he felt the stress of delivering a deeply unpopular message to the prevailing authorities – and to society at large. To use today’s words from Jeremiah, when God physically became a God nearby and not a God far off, we killed him.
Our divine family
But Jesus is saying our identity is not determined by our earthly family, by our human DNA, but by our divine one. We might be lucky with our biological families but sometimes they are places of rivalry and abuse or neglect or simply a place of not being fully loved for who we are.
In the household of God, we are all beloved. Without exception. Every single one of us in here – and out there. Beloved. Fully known by God and fully loved just the same. That kind of love transforms. As Paul wrote, that love never ends, never gives up.
And we might be tempted to think of love in terms of unity and being all warm and fuzzy with each other – but this kind of love is more likely to bring division and stress. Because God’s love is wide enough to upset those who want to limit God’s love to those who follow particular rules and regulations. Or who look or dress a certain way.
And God’s love is radical enough to force each of us to confront what we have done and what we have left undone, to use the words of the Confession.
That’s not to make us guilty but to show us how to find a way forward to be in right relationship with all of the beloved, all of God’s children, all of whom Jesus tells us we should call neighbour. It’s a love that make us see that our value is not in our wealth or in the possessions that we gather for ourselves – but in what we give away and in how much we love.
You are God’s beloved. Whoever you are. And nothing can separate us from God’s love – not heights, nor depths, not angels nor demons.
And this good news causes division. There is a non-negotiable consequence for our sin. Jesus took that on the cross. It is finished, it is completed. Thanks to God’s eternal love shown in person on the cross, the consequence of our sin isn’t death or damnation. The consequence of our sin is forgiveness.
Just like Jesus
Why did Jesus come? To proclaim that message. And just like Jesus’ family was with him, our own families might think we’re a little crazy too if we too proclaim that message.
Because proclaiming an unconditional and unbounded love to the world means standing with the unworthy, the marginalized, the oppressed. Just like Jesus did. It means standing against racism and sexism and any kind of injustice. And making that sort of stand causes division. It upsets whatever the dominant society happens to be because they benefit from how it currently is.
God’s love causes division. Jesus was an agitator, not a pacifier. He started fires to bring justice for all. God’s love causes division because it makes people uncomfortable. Perhaps it makes us uncomfortable. But some things are worth fighting for. Some things are worth starting our own fires for. What realities do we need to face and do something about?
In some parts of the world, living that kind of message can mean oppression and imprisonment, even death. For most of us here, very little is asked of us for the sake of our faith. I wonder if, as a consequence, our faith doesn’t matter so much to us. And in turn, maybe the world sees that and thinks ‘why bother?’ This text demands something of us.
Maybe Jesus’ demand on us to ‘interpret the present time’ is to do some soul searching, some self-reflection, on what it is that hinders us here and now in showing the kind of love and service demanded on us to those around us, to those who need the message the most?
It might be wealth, or fear, or the state of our faith. If so, we need to face that. Or maybe we’re not seeing, not recognising, where God is already at work around us.
Or, quite honestly, sometimes we just don’t feel loved. It might be a tough week, or a hard month, and we don’t feel particularly beloved. So, it’s hard to share it with others when we don’t feel it ourselves.
If you feel that way this morning, then know this. You and I, we are beloved. Whether we feel it or not. We are beloved. Non-negotiable.
And that’s why Jesus came. Amen
- Evans, C.F. (1990). Saint Luke. SCM Press.