JULY 14, 2008- ISAIAH 1:10–17; MATTHEW 10:34–11:1
MY MISSION IS TO SPREAD, NOT PEACE, BUT DIVISION. The same Jesus who made this declaration was to state later on “My peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you. Not as the world gives do I give to you (John 14:27).” We are to interpret our Lord’s words in today’s Gospel in light of this other statement. Familiarity with Aramaic thought patterns and its closely related Hebrew tongue with its modes of expression comes to our aid here. Stark contrasts rather than nuances of expression are typical of these languages used by our Lord and his disciples. Reflecting the ambiguities of human experience, free of the abstract analysis so characteristic of Greek and Latin speech, Aramaic expressed teachings by setting up sharp polarities. “If any man comes to me without hating his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, and his own life as well, cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26).” Yet Paul, the Hebrew scholar, faithfully interpreted Jesus’ position when he wrote to Timothy that “anyone who does not take care of his own relations, especially those with whom he lives, has renounced the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever.”
The message that our Lord gives us in today’s text remains applicable to us in these times and just as challenging to our nature as ever: if we follow after him we will, sooner or later, meet with opposition and even rejection. As Isaiah put it in a much earlier age: “my ways are not your ways, says the Lord.” If we live by God’s word we will not be accepted by the world, or always understood even by those closest to us. We are to accept such misunderstanding, even when it leads to division and rejection, however it arises and no matter how closely united we are by human ties. Discipleship and all forms of friendship with our Lord requires a readiness to chose fidelity to him and his words in preference to every other bond of friendship and love.
Radical divisions in life are as a rule rather rare events, but we cannot be certain that we will be spared them, nor know in advance just when such a choice as causes division might occur. Examples of such soul-wrenching divisions are numerous in human history. Much more commonly in less radical matters do we encounter situations that cause us embarrassment, tensions, temporary estrangement, disapproval, or other sources of anguish. None of us escapes for long such trials. We must be ready for meeting them with the strength of conviction that they are opportunities for growing in trust and love of God. By fidelity in such common encounters, whether relatively minor or more painful and whether serious consequences, we are made ready for a life in which the Lord is all in all for us. The desire to belong, to be understood, affirmed, appreciated by those whom we respect and love is, psychologically, the deepest need we all feel. To channel this radical need and the desires and ambitions it gives rise to in such a way that it finds fulfillment in the Lord alone is the work assigned to all who would be followers of Jesus. It cannot be successful except through prayer and self-denial that is our constant and daily practice. This is the challenge our Lord’s declaration confront us with in the Gospel today as he proclaims “MY MISSION IS TO SPREAD, NOT PEACE, BUT DIVISION”. May the grace of this eucharist strengthen us as we strive to respond to his words.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger