Luke 12:49-53 (NIV)That doesn’t exactly sound like the Jesus we most often encounter. If the question is: “Did Jesus come to bring peace on Earth?” my answer most likely is affirmative. My first instinct is to think about the Nativity story, especially the most repeated recounting from Luke 2, which in verse 14 (KJV) includes the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men.”
“I have come to bring fire on the Earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on Earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
I also think of this passage, John 14:23-27 (NIV):
Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.That said, Jesus is not exactly known for equivocating. He’s pretty good about laying it out in black and white. Just a few verses earlier in the same chapter of John comes one of his best-known proclamations: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Just a few chapters after the Luke passage at the beginning of this post he drops this bomb: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters — yes, even their own life — such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
I’m sure much has been written about all these passages. Perhaps one of my ordained friends would be interested in sharing some professional, academic and theological perspective. But seeing as this is amateur hour, here’s my take: if you are going to be serious about Jesus, you have to put Him above everything else. Everything. Now ideally, you never have to worry about your family coming between you and your faith. If you choose your spouse with the help of God and raise your children with the help of God then you can put Jesus in the center of your family and all support each other as Christians.
I guess in some way this is like the passage from Ephesians about wives submitting to husbands as they do to the Lord and husbands loving wives as Christ loved the church. While I didn’t get into it when I wrote about that passage a month ago, I’ve often heard the difficult nature of these verses explained by suggesting there is no worry about submitting to a husband who loves his wife as Christ loved the church. If everyone is living the Christ-inspired ideal, it is not that difficult to follow His commands.
The problem arises when someone doesn’t live the ideal. And since none of us are capable of perfection, the rough patches are inevitable. I bet everyone knows of a divided family in one form or another. And while not all of those divisions are related to the role of faith in the family, there are families divided three against two, father against son and mother against daughter, with Jesus as the breaking point.
I’m sure this a terrifically cheesy reference, but whenever I think about divided families, it brings to mind the scene from “Home Alone” where Kevin encounters his scary old neighbor. After they talk a bit, the man reveals a rift he has with his son that is so severe he’s not welcome around any more — he can only watch his granddaughter from a distance. While the origin of the schism is left unclear, what’s strikingly evident is it’s such a deep gap it can’t be bridged even in church, even on Christmas Eve (at least not until the world’s most precocious six-year-old nudges his neighbor in the right direction).
Watching this movie as a child, I could not imagine anything so horrible as to divide my own family so deeply. Considering this scene now, as a parent, I am of course terrified of what I might do that could cause such hurt (I wrote about this fear a bit more deeply in early May). I guess it’s a good sign I can’t imagine my kids being the ones to cause the problem. But they’re young. Who knows what will happen as they grow and change?
There’s no way I’m going to resolve all these issues at war with each other inside my brain. But I’ll tell you my best approach for making peace with it all — placing my trust in the Lord. The more I think about what God might want for me to do, the more I bring myself into prayer, the more I try to listen, the more I feel like I’m doing the right thing. And while there’s always abundant opportunities for me to insert my own agenda and foul up royally, I’m growing more and more secure in the notion of ceding control to God and trusting that will help keep me from the kind of situation where our family is divided against itself.
I can’t just pray and check out — I have to make the right choices and say the right things at every opportunity. But I’m pretty darn glad Kristie and I aren’t alone on this journey.
A prayer for June 24:
Lord, I desire your peace. I do not want my heart to be troubled, I do not want to be afraid of the challenges ahead. You have made it clear I may encounter times where choosing you puts me in a difficult position. Please help me remember where my focus belongs — not with anything on this Earth but on you. Give me the clarity to follow your way and trust the effort will be rewarded. And please help me put the pursuit of your will at the center of not just my life, but my family as well, that we may walk your path hand in hand, side by side, together in you. Amen.