Thursday, October 22, 2009

I Have Come Not To Establish Peace, But Division!

Today’s First Reading is taken from the Letter of Paul to the Romans (6:19-23). At the end of yesterday’s reading Paul reminded the Christians of Rome that once they were slaves of sin, but now, they have been freed from sin by the sacrifice of Jesus. Paul speaks to them in human terms, because he knows, of his own experience, that human nature is weak. Just as they used to offer their bodies as slaves to impurity and ever increasing wickedness, now they must offer them in slavery to righteousness, which leads to holiness. When they were slaves to sin, they were free of the control of righteousness, but what profit did they gain from doing things that they are now ashamed of? Such behavior ends in death. Paul is not speaking of the death of the body, since sinful activities that lead to physical death are quite rare. He is speaking of what is called “the second death” in the Book of Revelation (20:14; 21:8). That is, the eternal punishment which is the consequence of serious sin.

Now that they have been set free from sin, and have become the servants of God, the benefit they receive, divine grace, leads to holiness, and to happiness in heaven. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

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Today’s gospel is taken from Luke (12:49-53).

Jesus said to his disciples, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already ablaze!” Jesus came to bring God’s judgment upon the earth. It was like fire that destroys things that have no value. This judgment would take place at Calvary, on the cross, where God would accept the sacrifice of his only-begotten son as ransom for the sins of humankind. Jesus refers to his death as a baptism. “There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!”

In our Christmas carols, we sing of “Peace on Earth, good will to men”. But in this gospel, Jesus asks “Do you think I have come to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, not peace, but division.” In fact, Jesus did bring peace, making people at peace with God. But his message also divided people. Some accepted his message; others refused to listen to him. This would even cause division within families. “A household of five will be divided, three against two, and two against three.” For instance, a father might go one way, and his son the other way. A daughter might go against her mother, or a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law might take opposite sides.

In the gospel, Jesus does not tell us which of the family members are for him, and which are against him. His message goes well beyond squabbles within a human family. History tells us that even in the first century of the current era – the Christian era – there were divisions within the people of God. It is certainly not God’s will that there be 57 varieties of Christianity. There is one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all. Let us pray that someday soon, the Church founded by Jesus Christ might truly be one, as He is in the Father, and the Father in Him, so that the world will know the one true God, and him whom God has sent to set us free.

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