Division, fire and unity

Division, fire and unity August 13, 2022

One of the best-known Peruvian saints is Saint Martin de Porres.  Born of a Spanish father and a black mother from Panama in the late 1500s, Saint Martin became known during his lifetime as someone who took care of the sick, both inside and outside the convent.  When he’s represented in art, you will see him holding a broom since one of his jobs as a lay Dominican brother was to clean the convent, and most of the time, you will see a plate of food at his feet with a dog, a cat and a mouse all eating from the same plate.  Tales that have been passed down throughout generations say that Saint Martin would make the three animals eat from the same place peacefully – a true miracle.

Maybe some families need to invite Saint Martin to Thanksgiving dinner so everyone at the table will eat peacefully and behave.

Every family strives for unity.  Every mother’s desire is for her children to get along.  Nobody enjoys moments of tension and division within the family.  Yet in today’s Gospel, Jesus says that he has come to bring division, and that members of the same household will be divided.  How come?  Isn’t Jesus the Prince of Peace?

Speaking the truth in love will sometimes cause divisions because some will not want to hear it.

Those of you who are parents, have made decisions that cause tension and division in your own household, not because you wish to divide your family, but because it’s the right thing to do.  In the short run, some decisions may divide the family, but in the long run, doing the right thing will deepen the love that is shared.

For example, what 16-year-old wants to hear about a 9pm curfew?

As we grow older, we seem to understand our parents better, and their decisions, even though in our youth we disliked those decisions and could not understand.

When we read the Gospels, it is clear that Jesus preaching his message is not welcomed by everyone.  The truth he reveals cuts through deeply, dividing those who believe and those who do not.

Some opposed Jesus because he exposed people’s motives which were not authentic.  He answers the questions of the scribes and pharisees who try to trick him with parables and questions which expose their hypocrisy.  Jesus brought division there.

Some opposed Jesus because he sought peace.  Peter cuts the ear of the high priest’s servant, but Jesus rebukes him and heals the man.  Jesus tells his disciples not to invoke fire on the towns who refuse to listen to him.  By calling for peace, Jesus brought division.

Others opposed Jesus because he revealed a deeper understanding of Scripture, like when he was criticized for dinning with sinners, and he quoted the Book of the Prophet Hosea, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”  He continues saying, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.”  His teaching upset some, causing division.

As Christians, we do not have to go around looking for fights.  At times, what we believe as disciples of Christ, will be misunderstood or flat out rejected.  We should not be surprised at all when many in the world will not want to hear it.  It will cause division.  It will cast fire on the earth.

Think of all the hot social issues that the Church has a strong voice in.  If I go around only speaking on these issues, everyone will end up hating me:

No abortion, stricter gun laws, healthcare is a universal right, immigrants have a right to seek refuge in other lands, contraception is not good, same-sex marriage is not marriage, euthanasia is wrong, capital punishment should be abolished, society must take care of the poor and marginalized.  Have I said enough of them?  These are all issues the Church feels strongly about… and I am certain there are differences of opinion among us here in this church.  The Gospel does cause division, not because it is confrontational, but because it challenges our way of thinking and living.

Jeremiah in the first reading was left in a cistern to die because he told the Israelite army to surrender, rather than to keep fighting.  This is what God asked him to prophesy.  The people did not want to hear it, and he almost died for it.  Eventually, Jeremiah was executed by his own people.  They did not want to hear him.

Likewise Jesus, he was executed because some did not want to hear him.

Why should we be surprised when the Gospel becomes a sign of contradiction in modern society?  When we are misunderstood or characterized wrongly?  When people from all sides of the spectrum pick and choose what to believe?

It is difficult for all of us to eat from the same plate like Saint Martin’s dog, cat and mouse, but never impossible.  May the fire of the love of Jesus challenge us and help us to forge unity from the division that exists.

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