“They will be divided; father against son, and mother against daughter.”
Well, this doesn’t sound much like a teaching from gentle Jesus, meek and mild does it? It sounds more like what you might find going on at a family dispute over the will of a distant relative.
So, how on earth can we square this with the teaching of Jesus which says:
“Love the Lord your God with all your soul, and with all your strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbour as yourself ”?
Let me tell you a true story.
When I was an Anglican curate I was asked to visit an elderly widow who was once married to a clergyman.
The parish priest had told me that she was very difficult; and I know that he found it hard to talk with her. But I visited her, and yes, at first, it was difficult. But I kept visiting, and when she was taken to hospital in Taunton I visited her there as well.
When she came home I continued to go to her house and before very long we started to get on just fine. She wasn’t difficult at all, and I soon realised that she was very sad, and actually very angry with The Church.
On one occasion she told me that she’d once asked her clergyman husband whether he loved God more than he loved her, and he told her that he loved God most. Can you imagine the hurt which he caused his wife as he said that?
Now any clergy wife will tell you that they have to share their husband, and I know from my own experience that its sometimes a very hard thing for them to do.
And although I believe that a priest is called to serve above everything else, I don’t believe that by neglecting my own family ties I’m somehow serving God in a special way.
Surely, what Jesus is teaching in today’s gospel reading is that we need to be totally committed to him. And this will sometimes result in disagreement and division from people who are closest to us.
It doesn’t mean that we have to seek ways of telling them and showing them what committed Christians we actually are.
We do well to remember that Jesus didn’t start his public ministry until he was 30. Why do you think he waited that long? Do you think he was busy devising a mission plan, or talking things over in the Jewish equivalent of a PPC? I don’t. I think Joseph had died and Jesus, the eldest lad, was busy looking after his mother and his younger relatives, until they could manage without him.
It was after this, when they came looking for him, that he said “Whoever does the will of God is my mother, my brother and my sister”. But Jesus never neglected his family. Even as he hung dying on the cross, he commended his mother into the care of his friend John.
Of course, if we take our faith seriously we have to be totally committed, and this commitment will inevitably cause friction. Your partner or your children will find some of the things you feel you should do are very strange, to say the least.
There are plenty of things in my life which need attention. Plenty of places where my lack of commitment to God makes me desperately ashamed, so I’m not trying to paint a rosy picture here, I’m trying to explain how this teaching of Jesus can make sense in the everyday life of an ordinary 21st century Christian.
We don’t live in those parts of the world where we face terrible dangers for the sake of the gospel. Clergy here, don’t need to send their families off to a place of safety whilst they stay to look after a church because there isn’t anyone else to do it. Thank God that we aren’t brought to that kind of test.
But we do need to ask God to show us just where we deny him. Everybody does. Peter denied Jesus. Judas betrayed him, and all the rest ran away. We all run away each day of our lives and that’s why the challenge of Jesus needs to be so sharp. Perhaps we run away from Jesus by fleeing away from the world into a type of religious life which allows us to neglect those whom we should be loving. It’s easy to worship God in church; it’s harder to worship him by loving your neighbour.
We must never forget the chain reaction which Jesus taught. He said:
“ When you give a cup of cold water to the least of my followers, you’re giving it to me, and through me to God”
This is what loving God means. This is how we show our commitment to Jesus.
It’s said that here in Western Europe we live in a post Christian age, but if there’s any truth in that then we surely need to relearn the simple but deep message that we cannot separate love of God and love of neighbour.A lesson which will once more enable us to go out with a message to challenge and change the hearts of those we meet.
May God give us all the grace to learn this lesson.