Is This Fine?
I listen to the Gospel that we just heard, as Christ tells us, “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” and I think, Is everything fine? Is it okay that Jesus doesn’t bring peace? Is that what we want? Christ wants to see the earth set on fire – and if that is the case, mission accomplished!
Our country is a glorious dumpster fire of political and social partisanship with daily arguments and cultural wars burning brightly.
Our cities are unsafe wastelands of lawlessness, racism, poverty, and hatred.
Our Church is smoldering with accusations of unorthodox liturgy on both the right and the left of the ecclesiological spectrum.
Parts of our country are literally on fire!
Is this the fire that you think Jesus wanted to see burning? Is this what the “Prince of Peace” came to offer to the world? It would seem on the surface that the Scripture is contradicting itself, or at least is unclear about a very important matter. When the birth of Jesus was announced to shepherds by the angels, they prophesied that His coming would mean peace on earth. The Letter to the Hebrews says that we should “strive for peace with all men”. And just before His passion and death, Jesus himself solemnly says to His closest disciples, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you”. Peace has always been considered to be one of the highest gifts promised by Christ to His followers.
Yet here Jesus is saying that He did not come to bring peace on earth, but division. How do we sort this out? We know that every word spoken by Christ has great significance. As always in dealing with God’s word, we will want to take in the whole of revelation and try to understand how this seeming contradiction can be resolved.
A clue can be found in the words of Jesus when He promises peace to His disciples. After telling them that He will give them His peace, He then says: “not as the world gives do I give you.” God’s understanding of peace and that of the world are evidently different. What then is the world’s understanding of peace?
Simply put, it is the absence of conflict. It is not so much a positive quality as a negative one. Peace means no war; it means no arguing or fighting; it means people are getting along. In a fallen world, that is a worthy thing to attempt. But it hardly touches the depth of what Jesus means by peace. In its worldly sense, the grave is a place of peace; the iron hand of oppression can bring peace; wiping out one’s enemies can result in peace; destroying inner desire can lead to peace.
The peace Jesus brings is not merely the absence of conflict; it is not the absence of anything. It is something positive, strong, and immense. It is the presence of God and of God’s cosmic order and perfect rule. The peace brought by God is a state of union with truth, goodness, and charity. Jesus came among us to bring God to us, to heal us of our rebellion and re-establish God’s beneficial order within us, among us, and most decisively in our relation to God. The peace of God is another way of saying the kingdom of God.
The Eucharist is the full expression of this peace – and it is the remedy for the fire that seems to engulf our most cherished institutions – from our government, to our cities, to even our Church and parishes. While we may be experiencing the effects of what some observers have called “anticommunion,” an appreciation and recapturing of the Eucharistic grace can help us to unravel these disasters and be drawn deeper into Holy Communion – with Christ and with one another. This is the fire that Jesus wants to see burning – not the various “dumpster fires” that we find in all corners of our lives. Peace does not mean sitting in the midst of these flames and declaring “this is fine.”
Peace, for the disciple of Christ, is an active lifestyle – a fire that burns in you and me – that warms our hearts and drives our actions. It is the flame the fuels the kingdom of God in our midst.