At Triennium, the youth conference Gabe, Marissa and I attended in July, we sang one of the songs we used to always sing in the campus ministries I was involved in. The song is basically a bunch of nouns that refer to Jesus, and finally at the end, the climax, everyone excitedly exclaims you’re the Prince of Peace and I will live my life for you. Jesus is a peacemaker, right. Every advent and Christmas we hear the Luke describe the dramatic birth of Jesus and we proclaim with the Jesus’ birth there will be peace on earth, good will toward men. [I can’t wait to see one of the famed WPC Christmas pageants.] Jesus, the peacemaker. “Promises of peace [are] central to the presence of Jesus in Luke (1:79;. 2:14; 8:8; 19:38). Jesus is to guide our feet into the way of peace. Peace is the message the seventy are commissioned to preach back in Luke 10. Jesus is a peacemaker right? Or have things changed? What is going on with this Jesus? Is this some kind of alter ego Jesus; some kind of split personality, like so many of us have?
Well have you noticed lately that Luke has gotten pretty intense chapter to cover. Ever since Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem at the end of chapter 9; Jesus sees an ominous cross looming in his future: it’s kind of like no more mister nice guy Jesus for Luke. Luke 12 presents us with a hard hitting Jesus who is not afraid to challenge any would be disciples when it comes to issues of economics (only a fool builds up bigger barns, sell all you have and give alms to the poor); emotional and psychological issues (don’t worry), and tells disciples to be ready for action with lamps burning brightly. Something is going to happen soon. We have reached a moment of crisis; and Jesus is stressed out; he sees death around the corner. Fire, judgment upon the earth is imminent because the baptism that he will have to suffer: death on a cross. He is worked up, emotional, passionate—Don’t you see him sweating? This is not the Jesus we are most accustomed to, and probably not the Jesus we would prefer: Jesus is supposed to be a very subdued gentle creature, who tilts his head and looks at you with eyes of compassion, who floats down out of the clouds and comes pacifically into our lives at our beckon call.
What is all this talk about fire, judgment, baptism and stress? I have not come to bring peace, but division. Families will be split up. [So much for family values.] You hypocrites, you’ve got the best meteorologists around but you’re blind as bats to what is really going on. You better get yourselves straightened out NOW.
But, wait a minute Jesus, surely you don’t mean these things. Go back to being nice and cute. I think Jesus’ emotions are getting the best of him. We all know how much we can change when our emotions get to us. We say things we don’t really mean…and then we spend days, maybe even weeks trying to make up for it: Honey, you know I didn’t mean that about your family coming into town. You know how much I love them and you; here are some flowers, aren’t they beautiful, like you are beautiful. Whack.
Do you think I’ve come to bring peace? NO! Hey guys, buddies, that stuff I said about division, about judgment, I was really just kidding, I didn’t mean it, see I was just really stressed out.
But Jesus doesn’t recant, doesn’t bring the disciples a bunch of lilies he’s pick in the field. He continues to move toward the cross.
Preaching on passages like this one is a wonderful challenge. Commentators say that it is one of the top 10 toughest passages on Jesus. Jesus is just so human. And he seems so negative.
And this seems to contradict Jesus the peace-nik. Maybe Luke got the words of Jesus wrong; put words in Jesus mouth so to keep that early Christian audience on their toes. It certainly caught my attention.
And yes, we a very human Jesus, sweat is dripping down his brow as he glares intensely at the crowd. So often we domesticate Jesus and make him nice and cute/ handsome. We want him to be how we think he should behave; to fit him nicely in our pockets, but this undoubtedly is idolatry. We forget that he breaks out in rage, bringing fire to the earth, overturning tables in temples.
This message is not about being a nice Christian. It’s about deep personal conviction. It’s about reordering our lives, our life within ourselves, our values and morals that would guide our decisions, and about reordering the relationships we have with others.
Jesus comes to earth to show us the way of peace. But often times seeking the way of peace is what brings about division.
At the Peacemaking conference I was struck by the great irony of the entire event; the seeming contradiction. We were being “equipped” with various peacemaking “tools” which we were to put into our “peacemaking toolboxes” such as advocacy, nonviolent demonstrations, prayer vigils, and the work like what Barbara is doing in Colombia as a accompanier. But what inherently comes with each of these tools is conflict, division as the powers and principalities that would rule this world are confronted by those disciples who chose the path toward peace which favors all of Creation. Those who have been the great peacemakers in history, Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, Cesar Chavez, have caused great divisions because they are disruptive to the status quo. They won’t accept the way things are because they have seen visions of a better way in which God’s justice rolls down like a mighty river.
When we are committed to the way of the cross, when we seek above all else to participate in Christ’s mission of reconciliation, binding up, making whole. Often times this commitment may separate us from those we love most, including our families. I don’t think that Jesus is implying a hostile division. It’s one in which we are convicted by the Holy Spirit to do what we have to do, to follow the way we are called to follow. I think about Phil Gates who preached here a few weeks ago. He was convicted about the way our taxes are used to support training of paramilitary groups in various parts of the world who have been involved in some of the most atrocious acts against humanity ever known. Out of protest, and out of faith, he was compelled to cross the property line of Fort Benning, where the training takes place, and knew that for trespassing he would spend time in jail. When he tried to talk to her about what he was doing, told him, “I don’t want to hear anything about it. I don’t agree with what you are doing.”
Jesus desires for there to exist peace on earth, but knows that there can be no peace where there is suffering, no peace where there are injustices. SO he had to move toward the way of the cross.
Once we get past Easter I suppose we don’t talk about the cross much. The cross is a pretty ornament to hang around necks or rearview mirrors, to adorn walls or serve as wind chimes. But just as we easily forget the humanness of Jesus, the frailty and vulnerability, the passion and emotion, we also forget that the rugged cross, the ultimate symbol of violence and death.
The cross indicates the nearness of God to human pain. It is on the wood of the cross, that God is present to human beings in their torment, sorrow, and hope for new life. On the cross, God is vulnerable and concretely present in all the inhumanity of history. On the cross, unjust suffering becomes part of God’s self identity—suffering in the world become radically questioned. The One who is nailed to the cross is a person of color, a person who was disadvantaged socially, a person full of emotion who enfleshed the Word. IN the cross God is in solidarity with the persecuted and oppressed, ultimately Jesus was killed by people corrupted by power.
Indeed, the cross frees human beings to confront the world with the truth of God.
The cross, someone has said, is the sign of growth through struggle. Christ compels us to do better than interpreting the weather, that we interpret the times. 1 That we recognize that things are not the ways that they should be, and that we enter into the struggle as faithful disciples. Jesus was no stranger to struggle, no stranger to frustration and fear.
We disciples are eager for an instant peace, a trouble-free fulfillment of promised salvation. If only it were so easy. But, even as we follow, we can know that we have one another as a community of faith willing to pray for and support each other in difficult times. We can be assured that through our baptism we can be assured of Christ’s claim on our lives. And we know that we can come to the table, this table which represents the sacrificial act of Jesus on the cross, and we can be nourished and strengthened to go about Christ’s mission, and go knowing that we are not along, because Christ who is our real peace, is with us on the way.
1 Harold J. Recinos, Who Comes in the Name of the Lord?” Abigdon, pp. 66-67.