Today’s Gospel reading from St. Luke might make us scratch our heads. Jesus says to his disciples, “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” And he continues, “A father will be divided against his son, and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother.” This passage seems at odds with Jesus the merciful healer and reconciler.
When I taught an introductory philosophy course to high school seniors, I began by telling them that I was there to confuse them. As I looked at their puzzled faces, I was off to a good start! What I wanted to have happen in that class was to have students re-examine their assumptions and to begin building a coherent life philosophy that underpins living a moral life.
In today’s chaotic and charged public dialogue, we often retreat to those safe groups or cable networks where all my assumptions are affirmed and reinforced. We can’t seem to tolerate others who might challenge our assumptions or biases. Rather than engage in civic and civil conversations, we berate and insult those who disagree with us.
Jesus did not come to simply mess with people’s minds. He came to show us a different way. And for many, it did not make sense, it was confusing. The Gospel of John (6:65) even says that some of the early disciples left to return to their homes because what Jesus was preaching was simply too hard.
So yes, there will be division, there will be differences, there will be discomfort when we listen intently to what Jesus is saying to us. That’s the nature of conversion. All those assumptions we carry might well need to be re-examined. If you want to put all those assumptions back into place, that’s fine. But first Jesus is going to challenge us – even confuse us – to look at our life and the world differently.
Robert Hotz is a consultant with American City Bureau, Inc. and was the Director of The Passion of Christ: The Love That Compels Campaign for Holy Cross Province.