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One of the distressing things about our world today is that we seem to be getting more and more polarized. We’re divided up (or we divide ourselves up) between “us” and “them”. And it seems that no matter how hard we try, we’re caught up in constant conflict.
And so we try to minimize the conflict and the division. We choose to live and work in places where most people think or act like “us.” We read or listen to news that gives us “confirmation bias.” And we try hard not to get into conversations that will quickly become difficult.
Most of all, we’d like God to be a refuge from all the division and stress. At least we know that God loves us and accepts us even if others don’t. And a little peace in our lives can go a long way when the rest of the world seems to be falling apart.
But today Jesus comes along and says, “do you think that I have come to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” And my first reaction is to respond, “Gee, thanks Jesus but I don’t need any more help with division in my life! And yes, I do like to think that you’re about ‘peace on earth’. After all, that’s what the angels announced back about 10 chapters ago when you were born!”
I like Jesus to be about peace in my life. I want Jesus to be about peace in my life. And probably, you do, too.
We don’t want Jesus to be a source of stress in our relationships, with the society around us, or in our politics. And not infrequently throughout the ages, Christians have worked hard to “edit” Jesus so that Jesus doesn’t cause us any conflict.
This was easier, even in the world in which I grew up. Christianity was such a dominant force, that it minimized division in our:
- Families – everybody at least paid lip service to being a Christian, and many families all went to church together (even if some clearly did it unwillingly!) …;
- Society – “blue laws” prohibited all kinds of activities on the “Christian sabbath”, and so you never had to worry about the soccer game on Sunday morning, or having someone think you were weird for going to church instead of joining them for brunch …
- Politics – we all thought all our laws just reflected our religious beliefs (even when they didn’t); and when our politics did seem to conflict with Jesus, many congregations and denominations, on both left and right, edited Jesus to highlight just the parts of Jesus that made it seem like he endorsed “their side” …
And truthfully, I’d like to edit out most of today’s Gospel reading! In fact, one of the commentaries I was reading this week said that today’s reading is probably one of the 10 sayings of Jesus almost everyone would like to avoid and edit out.
But with or without today’s sayings of Jesus, it’s always temping to edit Jesus in our lives in such a way that Jesus doesn’t cause us any stress or division. And we do this all time. We edit Jesus by:
- doing things Jesus calls us to do that we’d probably do anyway; and honestly then we’re too busy to do other, more uncomfortable things …
- focusing on ideas and principles that make sense to us socially and politically; and after a while, it just seems like Jesus is one of “us”, and opposed to all of “them” …
- dwelling on his life and resurrection, instead of his suffering and death; because thinking about stuff like Jesus’ impending suffering in today’s Gospel reading reminds us of suffering and death in our own lives that we’d just as soon ignore for as long as possible…
But real, unedited Jesus has a tendency to keep getting in the way of our editing. And that’s really what causes the stress and division. And when we hear these words of Jesus, it’s not that Jesus is trying to be a pain in our lives! It’s just that anything real, and powerful and important will eventually make us change and grow in ways that will unavoidably cause stress and division for us.
Real, unedited Jesus always gets in the way of our attempts to edit him.
On the other hand, real, unedited Jesus is really who I need for my real, unedited life. Edited Jesus, who only speaks of peace would be great if my life was only filled with peace. Edited Jesus, who never causes division, would be great if my life wasn’t filled already with stress and division. Edited Jesus, who never asks me to examine my values or priorities, would be great if my world never changed or brought me into contact with new people and experiences.
But that’s not my world. And it’s not yours either. And so even though I’m inclined to resist the unedited Jesus of today’s Gospel, it’s the real, unedited Jesus who I really need.
In the end, it’s actually good to have real, unedited Jesus. And that’s because it’s only the Jesus who challenges us on the reality of our failings who can credibly promise us forgiveness. It’s only the Jesus who suffers through conflict, and walks with us through our conflicts, who can assure us of peace. And it’s only the Jesus who suffers and dies who can give us real and certain hope of new and everlasting life.