The Ties that Bind
There are not any gospel lessons harder on our ears than today’s. The harsh words spoken by Jesus today should definitely offend and even confuse. The Gospels often talk about reconciliation and the peace that Jesus brings. Today he tells us he’s not bringing peace but fire and he’ll create divisions even within families. Brothers and sisters when Jesus speaks like this it is imperative that we don’t skip over it and find the more comfortable parts of the gospel but we wrestle with all his words. Before I get into families I want to say a little something about the peace that Jesus doesn’t bring and the peace he does.
Throughout Luke’s gospel Jesus tells those who he heals and teaches “Peace be with you”. From Jesus these aren’t mere words of greeting or departure. It is a blessing, the gift of a very special peace; the peace that comes only from the presence of God. In today’s gospel when Jesus says he doesn’t bring peace he is talking about a worldly peace. Mortals have perceived peace as an absence of conflict and strife. God’s peace isn’t an absence of conflict or strife, but rather an acknowledgement of God’s presence in the midst of conflict or strife. Jesus brings a peace of the highest order, which calls for a restructuring, reordering, and redefinition of human values, priorities, norms, and institutions, processes that may even create conflict and strive.
Even the most fundamental of human institutions the family isn’t immune from the restructuring and redefining work of the Holy Spirit. That’s because it isn’t immune from the corruption of human sin. A look back in the Old Testament would remind us that family division and dysfunction is not a new thing but it was common long before Jesus came. Moses and pharaoh were brothers, Jacob and his mother schemed to steal the birthright out from under Esau, Jonathon was forced to choose between loyalty to his father King Saul or his best friend the future King David; he chose David proving that there are indeed bonds stronger than biology. These are all extreme cases of familial division but the truth is that all families in some way or another deal with conflict at some level, including your own, some creating insurmountable chasms between members and some prove to be bumps in the road.
The truth is brothers and sisters that families are always in conflict over earthly things that in the end will perish anyway; things like money, politics, and land just to name a few. If these earthly matters work to create tension within and divide families than shouldn’t matters of faith; things we believe to be of eternal significance be important enough to create even bigger divisions. Unfortunately in our world all too often families are willing to sacrifice relationships over the worldly and temporal matters but are willing to compromise when it comes to the questions of faith and the state of our souls. Perhaps some of the re-ordering which is done in the incarnation of Jesus Christ needs to be done in the area of priorities as well.
Brothers and sisters these are tough words to hear indeed. Largely because our identity and feelings of self worth are so wrapped up in our family and our experience of family. To hear Jesus tell us that he is bringing another thing with the potential to tear apart families scares us because it challenges our understanding of who we are and where we belong.
Who we are and where we belong. I believe these questions are absolutely fundamental to us as human beings. For Christians, the incarnation of Jesus Christ and the faith it creates replaces the family as the primary source of answers for these questions. This is why our baptism rite doesn’t include last names and we often talk about families of faith. Because there are indeed bonds stronger than blood or biology. Relationships forged in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and strengthened by the Holy Spirit go deeper than those of heredity. Sure our birth families are still important to us and should be. But they are no longer the relationship that comes first in our lives. We have been claimed as Children of God and been given a spirit of adoption from our Heavenly Father.
Brothers and sisters no matter how happy and near-perfect your earthly family may be this is indeed good news. As God’s own we are blessed with an inheritance that doesn’t perish when this world fades and a lineage to be very proud of. We are created in the image of our heavenly Father and called to live out that resemblance in the world around us. We belong to a daddy whose lap has room for all of us and whose love knows no bounds.
The human family like the humans who make them up are sinful and not forever. They know the limits of our best intentions and the hurt of our worst moments. They may know irreconcilable divisions or merely annoying differences. They can cause deep painful despair or overwhelming joy. But it is God’s family that’ll continue to be a source of hope for all of eternity, it is God’s family that is as perfect as its parent, it is God’s family that Jesus Christ came to bring, it’s not always easy as we try to live in both worlds but it is always good.