"The Earth on Fire"

Mike Liccione over at Sacramentum Vitae comments on these verses from Luke 12:

I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!

Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law."


The reason I love this passage is its clear implication that those who follow Jesus must draw a sharp line in the sand that will not be erased with the soft passage of time. I don't mean the obvious line we draw against certain kinds of felonies; among Nice People Like Us, that is uncontroversial. I mean the line to be drawn between Truth and Untruth. That is controversial. For just as in the ancient Roman Empire, relativism is popular today as the default option for getting along with people who are different: what's "true for me" is not "true for you," as they say; I'm OK and you're OK. To be sure, that attitude is often appropriate when we're dealing with matters of taste. It is sometimes appropriate even when we're dealing with disagreements about the best means to attain agreed-upon ends, which is really what many political disagreements are about. For sometimes there is no single "right" resolution to such issues. But when it comes to ultimates, such an attitude will not do at all. If Jesus really is what Scripture, Tradition, and the teaching authority of the Church together present him to be, then the only appropriate attitude toward him is complete faith and surrender, which entails being baptized with suffering. That was the life, and death, of many of the early Christians. And if Jesus is not what they collectively present him to be, then the only appropriate attitude is to dismiss him as one more deluded would-be messiah, even crazier than the ones the Romans brutally crushed both before him and after him—though without, as in Jesus' case, the active collusion of the Jewish leadership.

There have been many attempts, mostly among modern, "scientific" biblical scholars, to evade that choice and thus to brush away the line in the sand. Thomas Jefferson, judicious editor of the Jefferson Bible, was a good example of how intelligent people can cut Jesus down to their own size. As an antidote to that sort of thing, I recommend the Pope's book Jesus of Nazareth. But evading the choice is not just an intellectual phenomenon. Because we are all sinners, we all do it sometimes in our own egregious ways and, more insidiously, our sneaky little ways. We make compromises all the time hoping, for example, to avoid trouble with that ol' mother-in-law Jesus alludes to. There are countless other compromises. Sometimes we compromise faith itself, because conformity to popular opinion, relativism, or just cynical skepticism wins us more points and costs us less than orthodox, undiluted belief. Always we compromise our virtue—or at least put off the development of virtue—because that's easier and more gratifying than dying to self so that He might live in us. And often we can't be honest with ourselves, or even with God, because we're afraid of paying the bill that fully facing the truth would present to us.

In anything pertaining to the spiritual life, we must prefer honesty to niceness. Of course we'd thereby create much division. But we'd be on the right side of that line in the sand.


SocietyVs said…
"In anything...we must prefer honesty to niceness. Of course we'd thereby create much division. But we'd be on the right side of that line in the sand."

I don't think being on the 'right side' of the discussion is the actual point in that scripture though. But then I'd ask 'being right' about what exactly - what we believe or what we do? I may not agree with a lot of current Christian standards I see in churches across the world - but does that put me 'outside the sphere of being right'? I don't think so.

I think the scripture is pointing to the idea 'you will be disliked on the basis of following Jesus' (which was new for it's day - and was directed to those mainly in the Jewish community - differing them by Christ-ian). I think what Jesus was saying there makes all the sense in the world - that's what did happen. Families split over this, people were hated for it, and a great chasm between Tanakh and Christ-ian believers followed afterwards (and somewhat still to this day).

Peacemakers we are, but division is still a reality in this fractured world - this seems to be the point of Jesus in Luke. I don't think he was being thug-ish or teaching us to hate out families - but that at some point - they might hate you (and that cannot pressure your faith in a bad way).
Abu Daoud said…
Hi Society, I think what you are saying is in line with Mike's brief homily. The question that we need to ask is what are the areas where we need to draw a line in the sand v. where we need to allow people freedom in making decisions.
SocietyVs said…
"what are the areas where we need to draw a line in the sand v. where we need to allow people freedom in making decisions" (AD)

I would be very hesitant about drawing a line concering certain things but others are quite clear. If we want to follow Christ I think the teacings are a 'guide' - values we can adopt to make life better.

That being said is watching tv evil? music? alcohol? movies? I have all of these and more being tossed around like Jesus out-right stated they are 'evil' - which is totally un-true. If one looks closely - Jesus likely drank wine or had little problems with it. He was labelled a drunk at one point and in Cana turns water into 'wine' (for a marriage). I don't think these are the lines we need to 'draw' (concering outward things). I think the line is an inward thing - about what values and morals we will adopt. The 2 greatest commandments illustrate this - love God, love you neighbor - we need to keep tabs on our relationships - which ultimately is not something we can 'hang on another' (or judge them about) - this is inside of us.

So the drawing lines thing - as I have seen - has created divisions for all the 'wrong reasons' - this 'us and them' mentality so prevelant in churches is such a made-up thing concering what Jesus really did say - it boils it down to 'do you believe like me - if not - I can't hang around you'. If someone hates us for that - that is un-biblical on our parts (not theirs). If we decide to become a Christian and all our friends want nothing to do with us afterwards because we won't partake in their 'orgies' - then we are being hated for what seems like a 'right reason'.
Anonymous said…
you are insane. you are stupid

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