Gospel – Luke 12:49-53
“I have come to set the earth on fire,
and how I wish it were already blazing!
There is a baptism with which I must be baptized,
and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!
Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?
No, I tell you, but rather division.
From now on a household of five will be divided,
three against two and two against three;
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,
a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”
Reflection on the Gospel
Let us remember that we are in the holy presence of God.
Jesus was not a “nice guy.” Nice guys don’t threaten the status quo. Nice guys don’t “rock the boat” or make people uncomfortable. Nice guys don’t speak up because they would prefer to be well liked and perceived as congenial rather than speak an uncomfortable and necessary truth. Nice guys are liked, but they rarely affect history for the better. And, to be sure, nice guys are not executed for challenging religious and civil authorities and calling out their unjust and hypocritical practices.
Like so many prophets and great servant leaders of history, the Word-made-flesh has been reduced in the popular imagination of many Christians to a cuddly, comfortable, friendly caricature of who Jesus of Nazareth is according to the Gospels. Which is why today’s short Gospel passage with it’s opening lines from Jesus speaking with a flourish of the dramatic and a hint of violence seems so out of place.
This passage continues Luke’s accounting of Jesus’s journey from the greater region of Galilee down to Jerusalem, which tells of Jesus’s confrontation with his divine mission and challenging the expectations of his followers on the theme of discipleship. You think I’ve come to be a “nice guy,” he effectively says, then you don’t understand the risk that comes with following God’s will and proclaiming God’s Reign!
True discipleship demands the sacrifice required of agapic love and it involves taking the risk of being disliked for doing the right thing, prioritizing justice over social convention, and loving as God has first loved us. This may cost us not only our reputation and comfort as “nice guys” and “nice gals,” but it could also mean experiencing the divided households Jesus describes—family and friends may not appreciate, support, or even understand, Jesus warns.
The good news is that we are never expected to do this alone. As the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us, we are members of the communion of saints, called to build one another up and support each other in this life, and draw from the example and prayerful solidarity of those in the next life. This “great cloud of witnesses” accompanies us along the way, if we attune ourselves to recognizing that the Body of Christ is more than those baptized sisters and brothers we see today.
The temptation to be “nice guys” and “nice gals” exists as much today as it did two millennia ago. At a time of great political and ecclesial polarization, it may feel more challenging and scary than ever to call out injustice, speak up on behalf of those who suffer, and challenge the sinful status quo. But alas, this is our task as it was for Jesus. We may also find ourselves setting the world ablaze, but as long as it is lit with the fire of the Holy Spirit, it will be in the tradition of Christ, who remains the light of the world!
Daniel P. Horan, OFM, PhD
Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Spirituality
Catholic Theological Union, Chicago
Saint John Baptist de La Salle – Pray for us.
Live, Jesus, in our hearts – Forever.