Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
At a time when division, polarization. and violence are rife in society church is the last place I want to come to, and hear the words, “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” (Lk 12:51). Moreover, to hear these words from Jesus’ lips is very, very difficult. This is not the Jesus we know. The Jesus we know is the Jesus who promised God’s kingdom to peacemakers. The Jesus we know is the Jesus who says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” The Jesus we know is the Jesus who, after the resurrection, appeared to his frightened and confounded disciples saying, “Peace be with you!” What are we to make of Jesus’ seemingly divisive statement?
Perhaps, we are already aware that this gospel passage is more about the historical reality within which the gospels were written than about Jesus promoting himself as a zealot. Clearly, Jesus did not come to cause division. However, he did become the cause of division. I mentioned last week that the Gospel of Luke was written a little after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. By the time the Temple was destroyed, many Christians had already fled Jerusalem. When the Romans laid siege over Jerusalem, the Jews expected the remaining Christians to take arms against the Romans. To their dismay, the Christians remained uninvolved, mainly because, Christians were non-violent. As a result, after 70 AD Christians were not permitted in the Jewish synagogues. In this way, Jesus became the cause of division. Luke’s words also point to the rift created within families because Christian beliefs put believers in direct opposition to Roman practices. Unless the entire family converted to Christianity, faith in Jesus Christ became the cause of division. Luke captures this reality with Jesus’ words, “I have come to cause division.”
In my three points today, I would like to reflect on living uncompromisingly as followers of Jesus Christ in a multi-religious world.
- Is Religious Pluralism willed by God? Religious pluralism is a reality. So is inter-religious conflict. In a recently published book, “Encyclopedia of Wars,” the authors Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod document a list of 1763 wars. Of these, they classify 123 wars to have been caused for religious reasons. 7 percent of all wars have been fought for religious reasons. 2% of all the people killed from wars were for religious reasons, and this includes the crusades. I believe that even one person killed in God’s name is one too many. Even a single religious conflict is one more than there should have been. How do we respond to this reality? One kind of response is the recent response by Pope Francis. During an interreligious meeting in Abu Dhabi, on Feb 4, 2019, Pope Francis signed a joint Christian-Muslim statement with the Grand Imam of al-Azhar. Entitled, “A Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together,” this document discusses the importance of religion in building a peaceful and free society. One paragraph in this document drew much criticism from some Catholics. The paragraph says, “The pluralism and the diversity of religions, color, gender, race and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings.” Critics wondered how multiple religions could be, God’s will. Don’t we believe that Jesus came to draw the entire human race to the God of the Christians? Again, as scholars point out, context is very important. The Catechism of the Catholic Church already has something to say about Christianity’s understanding of Islam. It says, “The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day” (CCC 841). In light of this understanding, the document was not an attempt by Pope Francis to compromise the gospel of Jesus Christ, but rather it was an acceptance of the reality of multiple religions. The many religions represent, in a positive way, the natural desire in human beings to know God. In the simplest sense, all religious represent a common human quest – the quest for salvation. To focus on this common quest is more important than focusing on the divisions that can destroy us all.
- Are we the Cause of Division? I want to talk about two kinds of divisions. The first kind of division is the kind that is caused by religious bigotry. Let me give you an example. We all know that Jesus was the epitome of love. We know that he did not come to cause divisions. In fact, the contrary is true. When Peter drew the sword to defend Jesus, Jesus commanded him to put the sword back in its sheath. He even forgave his enemies and taught his disciples to do the same. However, a bigot from another religion could take today’s gospel passage totally out of context and suggest that Jesus came to cause disharmony. You would not agree, would you? Similarly, I have heard Christian bigots take passages from Koran or other religious books out of context and suggest that they are violent religions. For example, here is a passage from Koran 8:2: “I am with you: give firmness to the Believers: I will instill terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers: smite ye above their necks and smite all their finger-tips off them.” If we understood that the context of this passage was the Battle of Badr (624 AD), where a population of 300 Muslims were being attacked by army of a thousand strong Meccan army after 13 years of persecution, then we understand that this command was given in self-defense rather than for as a rule for waging religious wars! The Battle of Badr was not any different than the battles the Israelite’s fought in the Old Testament. People quote this passage out of context and cause division. This is bigotry. No religion should promote bigotry. Certainly, it is not the Christian way! “Blessed are the peace-makers,” Jesus said, “they will be called children of God!”
- The Exception. There is a second kind of division – the kind of division that comes living a Christ-like life. While Jesus did not come to cause division, he became the cause of division in his society. Jesus became the cause of division because he lived radical love. He became the cause of division because he reconciled people. He became the cause of division because he put love above every other law. He became the cause of division because he empowered those who were marginalized in society. He became the cause of division because he included those excluded by religious leaders. He became the cause of division because he made God accessible to all people. As Christians, the only kind of division we're allowed to cause is the one that imitates the radical love of Jesus Christ. Let us be the cause of division because we stand uncompromisingly for Christ. Let us be the cause of division because we forgive our enemies. Let us be the cause of division because we feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and accept those rejected by others. Let us be the cause of division because we seek peace above all! Let us be the cause of division because we create a revolution of love.
This Eucharist is a sacrament of peace and reconciliation. As we receive Christ’s peace today, let us not just share peace with each other. Let us take this peace to every person of every religion, every race, and every nationality.
- Fr. Satish Joseph