Dear Parishioners of St. Philip Neri Parish, 

Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10

Psalm 40:2, 3, 4, 18

Hebrews 12:1-4

Luke 12:49-53

There is a baptism I must still receive, and how great is my distress till it is over! ‘Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on a household of five will be divided: three against two and two against three; the father divided against the son, son against father, mother against daughter, daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law, daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’

To those who were learning to regard Jesus as the Messiah, the Anointed One of God, these words would come as a complete shock. They regarded the Messiah as conqueror and king, and the Messianic age as a golden time. “Do you suppose that I have come to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” These are words coming from the mouth of Jesus. The prophets always said that the Messiah would be the prince of peace. And that his peace will have no end. At Bethlehem, the angels sing “Peace on Earth!” Paul wrote, “He is the peace between us.”

How can we explain the divisions that Jesus says he wants to provoke? “I came to bring fire to the earth.” We know that fire burns. A bushfire is often set on purpose to enable new fresh growth. It clears weeds and all undergrowth. This fire announced by the prophets and brought by Jesus purifies and saves. Its purpose is to destroy from our hearts that which chokes out the new growth of wholesome life. Fire burns up what is useless and refines what is impure.

We know that some conflicts are caused by misunderstandings. These conflicts can hopefully be resolved by discussion and loving understanding of the other. But in some conflicts, one side is right and the other is wrong. Even in these cases hatred, aggression, and violence cannot be espoused but divisions and differences of opinion will necessarily come as those on the side of justice, oppose the action of oppressors. One side is being unjust and the other is suffering injustice and oppression. In such cases not to take the side of the oppressed is clearly failing as a disciple of Christ.

Christians are not supposed to accommodate good and evil, justice and injustice.

We are called to overcome evil, injustice and sin. “Truth cannot afford to be tolerant where it faces positive evil”, Tagore, the great Bengali writer expressed. We should not be surprised if the gospel should divide people. Jesus’ sense of justice brought him into conflict with those who exploited the weak and the poor.

We cannot be neutral. If we do not take the side of the oppressed, we support the “status quo.” Desmond Tutu has remarked, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

In his letter from the Birmingham jail, Martin Luther King Jr, wrote, “I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension, to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

Fr. Albert Nolan, a Dominican, clearly taught that “Tension and conflict are not worse evils than injustice and oppression.”

Who were the weak and the poor in Jesus’ day?

  • The lepers, the excluded, children, women, foreigners… Christ stood out against the oppression of the poor and the weak. He criticized the leaders, the Pharisees, for laying heavy burdens on people yet refusing to lift a finger to help them.
  • He stood on the side of women who were oppressed by males. He made the men aware that they too were sinners and only the one without sin could judge or cast the first stone.
  • Jesus was the friend of the lame, the lepers, the blind. He refused to believe, as the rest of society did, that they were handicapped as a punishment for their sins.
  • He was willing to forgive sinners enabling them to experience conversion and begin again. Tax collectors, like Zachaeus, were given an opportunity to be freed and live anew.
  • The materially poor were judged by the same criterion as the rich. The Lord sees the heart: he extolled the widow with her small coin, and he said, “she gave more than everyone else for she gave everything she had.”
  • Children were important people and deserved attention, “Let the little children come to me and do not stop them.” In Jewish culture at his time children were among the oppressed. They were considered unclean, insignificant, of no importance.

Christian Spirituality may be defined as living, with the tensions caused by our responding to the invitations of Jesus in our lives. Faith calls for decisions and decisions can cause tensions. Jesus has not come to establish a soft accommodation with the world. Jesus, rather, is inviting His followers into a real relationship in which selfishness, uncaring, violence, and irreverence are confronted.

Is there anything in your life that should be burnt for you to live a more authentic life? When has conflict been a positive power in your life?

 

 

Fr. Ken Forster OMI
Associate Pastor St. Philip Neri Parish

306 715 5064