In today’s Gospel reading from Luke, Jesus says some startling words: "Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division." This does not sound like the Prince of Peace!
First of all, we must remember that when Luke’s Gospel was written, deciding to be a Christian often did bring division within families. In fact, there are places in the world where that is true even today, and people literally risk their lives by professing their faith as Christians.
In the U.S., where there is not so much religious persecution, there can still be conflict within families over faith, and over which denomination people may choose. But for me, Jesus is speaking about something deeper than family disagreements about religion. To follow Jesus involves taking a stand. To be a Christian often involves going against the grain of conventional wisdom or popular culture. For instance, worldly wisdom will often take an absence of tension for peace. But, as those like Martin Luther King, Jr. have said, true peace is not simply an absence of conflict. Sometimes our faith leads us away from "going along to get along." To forego violence in a world that often uses violence to resolve conflicts may lead us to conflict. To forego seeking our own pleasures for the sake of others in a world that is constantly seeking more and more gratification may earn us some strange looks.
Fear of conflict makes it difficult to be Christian. We do not seek to impose our beliefs on others, or force them to do what we want, but to follow Jesus means to live out our faith, no matter where we are. It means to love freely, as Jesus does. It means to share our hope, even in the midst of crisis. Living out our faith may bring division, but we will come to know, "with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth" of Christ’s love, and we will find real peace.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P. is the pastor of St. Mary’s Parish, Fairfield, Alabama.