I received a Christmas card a year or two ago. It simply read:
‘Dear Mark, May the peace of Christ disturb you’
To this day, I have pondered the significance of those words which came to me against the backdrop of the birth of Jesus. In the midst of the tinsel and sentiments of good tidings and great joy, I was being wished a peace that disturbs?
In this week’s Gospel (Luke 12:49-53) Jesus himself tells us that he has come to disrupt our lives and shake us out of complacency.
In many ways, this Gospel reading is sobering, or even shocking. Jesus tells the disciples: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” He asks his disciples a question: “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” So what is the message Jesus is trying to convey to the disciples and to us?
On a daily basis we see and hear multiple stories of division and violence: in families, cities and countries. Perhaps the most frightening stories are the acts of violence and destruction that take place in our own cities, our own suburbs and perhaps within our own families. In some ways, violence and division saturate us. We begin to accept them as the daily norm. We may even become desensitised to their significance.
Is Jesus trying to frighten us?
Perhaps He is simply hoping to wake us up? To rattle our cages of empathy and to motivate us to live our lives of discipleship – peacefully, lovingly, cooperatively and respectfully with all people – even the individuals we find it difficult to like or agree with?
Division, unrest and violence were no less present in the time of Jesus. He was radical. His message and actions challenged the norms of the day. His message, if authentically lived, continues to do this today.
It requires us to put aside prejudice and pre-conceived ideas. It requires us to be responsible for our actions and words. It takes courage to maintain integrity. Many people in Jesus’ time rejected his radical ideas and actions. His ideas challenged people and divided them.
This week’s Gospel reminds us that to witness, read, view or hear about inequity and hurt, and decide to remain silent is in fact a decision to passively support wrong, and promote hurt. We have a responsibility to stand against unfairness and oppression. The Gospel reminds us that this might cause unrest and division. It might make things uncomfortable for a while, but it is no reason to war against one another with our words and our actions.
Consider the implications at a personal level. When have we had to take a stand against a wrong in our workplace? How have we had to remain steadfast against corruption at a community level? How have we tried to promote peace and love in our own family context and found it has led to tension and discomfort?
Yes, the message of today’s gospel is challenging and difficult. We are not used to thinking about our faith in this way. However, the words of Jesus force us to look at the implications of our commitments. As Jesus warns us, a commitment of faith requires us, at times, to change the way we live our lives and to reassess our faith priorities.
The Christmas card I received now makes sense! Lord, disturb me, shake me out of complacency and allow me to live my faith with confidence.