THE PRINCE OF PEACE’S MESSAGE BRINGS DISCORD BETWEEN THOSE WHO DON’T ACCEPT IT AND THOSE WHO DO.
“DETACHMENT FROM THE THINGS OF THE WORLD IS THE MARK OF THE FOLLOWER OF JESUS. BUT THIS DETACHMENT IS NOT SIMPLY A NEGATIVE ATTITUDE TOWARD THIS PRESENT WORLD. INTRINSICALLY IT IS A POSITIVE ATTITUDE TOWARD GOD AND THE GREAT GOD OF ETERNAL LIFE.”
THE SIGN OF CONTRADICTION
“Though Jesus preached the law of love, He Himself was not received with love by the leaders of His own people. Shortly after teaching His disciples the Our Father and insisting to them on the efficacy of prayer, Jesus expelled a devil from a man who was dumb and the dumb man was able to speak. The Scribes and Pharisees, determined to destroy Jesus, said that Jesus Himself was in league with the devils. Jesus replied: If, then, Satan also is divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand? … Now, if I cast out devils by Beelzebub, by whom do your children cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. But if I cast out devils by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you’ (Luke 11:18-20).
Some time later the Scribes and Pharisees asked Jesus for a sign which would prove His claims. Jesus was not pleased with their lack of faith, but He did give them a sign. ‘An evil and adulterous. Generation,’ He said, ‘demands a sign, and no sign shall be given but the sign of Jonas [Jonah] the prophet. For even as Jonas was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth’ (Matthew 12:39-40). Then Jesus reproached the Scribes and Pharisees because they would not believe Him. The men of Ninive, He reminded them, believed Jonas and repented.
Not all of the Pharisees were convinced that Jesus was an enemy of the religion which they professed to believe. One of them invited Jesus to dine with him and his friends. This overture, however, did not turn out well. Jesus, knowing how the Pharisees relied on external religious observances but neglected the internal purity of heart and intention which God preferred, deliberately refrained from the ritual washing which the Pharisees practised before dining. This led His host to wonder why Jesus did not fulfil the prescriptions which the Pharisees practised. Jesus took the occasion to point out that the Pharisees were more interested in external appearances of holiness rather than true holiness of will.
One of the Scribes present protested that Jesus was insulting them. Jesus replied that the lawyers were also at fault because they imposed on the people generally oppressive burdens which they themselves did not share. This led the Scribes and Pharisees to hate Him the more and induced them to try to trap Him so that they might bring about His downfall.
Jesus, on His part, knowing how implacable their opposition to Himself was, did not refuse the challenge. He warned the people to beware of the false religious ideas of the Pharisees. The common people, of course, lived in awe and fear of the Pharisees and the Scribes. Jesus felt it was necessary to disabuse the people of their fear of their leaders. ‘Do not be afraid,’ He said to them, ‘of those that kill the body, and after that they have nothing more that they can do. But I will show you whom you shall be afraid of; be afraid of him who, after he has killed, has power to cast into hell’ (Luke 12:4-5). Jesus was attempting to show the people that they should believe in Him rather than the Scribes and Pharisees. Hence He continued, ‘And I say to you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, him will the Son of Man also acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God’ (Luke 12:8-9).
A KINGDOM NOT OF THIS WORLD
Now, it would not be easy for ordinary people to act against or in defiance of the Pharisees and lawyers. Jesus, Who had not come to establish an earthly kingdom, did not promise the people that He would defend them by arms or force. He had come to establish the spiritual Kingdom of God and so He promised them the help of God. ‘And when they bring you before the synagogues,’ He said, ‘and the magistrates and the authorities, do not be anxious how or wherewith you shall defend yourselves, or what you shall say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say’ (Luke 12:11-12).
THE LAW OF LOVE
Jesus knew that the spiritual leaders of the people had rejected Him and that they would seek to prevent the accomplishment of His mission to establish the Kingdom of God among men. As is so often the case with men with an exaggerated reverence for human laws, they had failed to penetrate to the inner essence of God’s law, the law of love. Enamoured of their own interpretations of the law, determined to maintain the pride of their own position among their countrymen and their reputation for faithfulness to the stern and burdensome law which they taught, they had hardened their hearts against Jesus and were resolved to see that He did not secure the allegiance of the people. It was therefore necessary for Jesus to appeal directly to the people. This He did, not by promising them that He would defend them by earthly power, nor even by miracles, but by asking them to make an act of faith in the power of God. The Holy Spirit, He said, would protect them in the hour of danger. They should fear, not the death of the body but the death of the soul in hell. If they preferred God to the goods of this world, to earthly life itself, then God would give them strength to acknowledge Jesus so that they might enter into eternal life in the Kingdom of God.
At this point in the discourse of Jesus to the people one of those present asked Jesus to settle a dispute between himself and his brother about their inheritance. Jesus seized the occasion to point out that the goods of this world were at best only passing pleasures which were all lost at death. Lay up for yourselves treasures with God, He counselled them, rather than treasures in this world.
This led Him on to give His own disciples the magnificent discourse on trust in the providence of God: ‘Therefore I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, what you shall eat; nor yet for your body, what you shall put on. The life is a greater thing than the food, and the body than the clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storeroom nor barn; yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than they! But which of you by being anxious about it can add to his stature a single cubit? Therefore if you are not able to do even a very little thing, why are you anxious concerning the rest? See how the lilies grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass which today is alive in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how muchmore you, O you of little faith! And as for you, do not seek what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; and do not exalt yourselves (for after all these things the nations of the world seek); but your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be given you besides’ (Luke 12:22-31).
Detachment from the things of the world is the mark of the follower of Jesus. But this detachment is not simply a negative attitude toward this present world. Intrinsically it is a positive attitude toward God and the great God of eternal life. Jesus continues: ‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom. Sell what you have and give alms. Make for yourselves purses that do not grow old, a treasure unfailing in heaven, where neither thief draws near nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart also will be’ (Luke 12:32-34).
Jesus could not, in words, have emphasised more strongly the spiritual nature, the essential unworldliness of His kingdom. Those who enter His kingdom must be concerned with the good of their souls, with the good of eternal life, rather than with security and prosperity in this world. They must be ready to give up all worldly goods, even life itself, for eternal life. This lesson of detachment moved the mind of Jesus to look into the future. He foresees His own coming to judge the souls of men. To be blessed by Him when He comes as judge men must be faithful to Him always. He compares them to faithful servants who guard well the house of their master. Their fidelity must be not just for a time but constant. ‘You must also be ready, because at an hour that you do not expect, the Son of Man is coming’ (Luke 12:40).
STEWARD OVER THE MASTER’S HOUSEHOLD
Peter, who has accompanied Jesus on His journey through Judea, asks Jesus if these words are meant only for the Apostles or for all alike. Since Jesus has promised that Peter will be the head of His kingdom, of His Church, it is not surprising that Jesus replies to him by telling the parable of the prudent and faithful steward whom the master has put over his household. If the steward remains faithful to his trust he will be rewarded by his master. But if he becomes unfaithful and abuses his authority then he will be punished. To whom much authority is given, of him much will be demanded.
THE PRINCE OF PEACE
At this point Jesus, realising that His message would be despised by many, utters one of the saddest statements in the Gospel story. ‘I have come to cast fire upon the earth, and what will I but that it be kindled? But I have a baptism to be baptised with; and how distressed I am until it is accomplished! Do you think that I came to give peace upon earth? No, I tell you, but division. For henceforth in one house five will be divided, three against two, and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against his father; mother against daughter and daughter against the mother; mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’ (Luke 12:49-53).
Now Jesus Himself had come into this world as the Prince of Peace. At His birth the angels of God had promised peace on earth to men of good will. Obviously, then, Jesus does not mean to say that He has come of set purpose to bring discord to men, to set the members of families against one another. That is not His intention. Yet, because of bad will among men, that will be the result of His mission. He has come to bring peace to the hearts and souls of men, to usher them into the peace of the Kingdom of God. But many will refuse to accept Him; in fact they will hate Him and those who follow Him. And so Jesus acknowledges sadly that the true peace of soul which He brings to men will be also the cause of discord among men.
THE CAUSE OF DISCORD
He is reminded, too, that the bad will of the leaders of His own people will move them to bring about His own death. ‘But I have a baptism to be baptised with.’ But because His death will be the cause of salvation for many, He is anxious to offer His life for men: ‘And how distressed I am until it is accomplished.’
Jesus, the Prince of Peace, is a sign of contradiction. He has come to bring peace, but His coming is the occasion of discord. God plans the salvation of men, but men are still rebellious. In the garden of Paradise Adam sought to find his own happiness and glory without God and against God’s will. Now God is once again walking familiarly with men, but they prefer their own glory to His. If we might make use of a thought of St Augustine, men refuse to use the world to come to the glory of God; they prefer to use God to attain glory in the world. Because Jesus refuses to use His power to establish a triumphant earthly kingdom, those whose hearts are enmeshed in the pleasures of this world will war against Him and His spiritual kingdom.
Aware of this fateful prospect, the rejection of the true Messias by God’s Chosen People, Jesus urges the people to repent before it is too late. You know how to judge the weather from the winds and the colour of the sky, He tells them. Why do you not read the signs of the times for the salvation of mankind? Be reconciled with one another, be reconciled with God before He comes to judge and chastise you.
At this moment someone brought word that Pilate had shed the blood of some Galileans while they were offering sacrifices in the Temple of Jerusalem. Some of the crowd apparently felt that these Galileans had been thus punished by God because they were sinners. Believing themselves righteous, they were not worried about their own possible fate. Jesus warns them: ‘Do you think these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they have suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent, you will all perish in the same manner. Or those eighteen upon whom the tower of Siloe fell and killed them; do you think that they were more guilty than all the other dwellers in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent, you will all perish in the same manner’ (Luke 13:2-5).
Jesus, the Son of God, has come to save His people. The time of salvation is at hand, but they must seize it by repentance. To emphasise the need for making their decision quickly Jesus tells the people the parable of the barren fig tree. Because it had borne no fruit for three years its owner wished to cut it down. But his gardener urged him to give it one more year. The tree would be cared for and fed well. If then it bore no fruit it could be cut down. Jesus was pointing out to the people that the time had come for them to bear the fruit of repentance. If they did not, then they, too, would be cut down by God.
SOME ACCEPTED HIM; SOME IN SELF-LOVE REJECTED HIM
On this same journey through Judea, Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. A woman who had been bent over by disease for eighteen years was brought to Him. Jesus laid His hands on her and said, ‘Woman, thou art delivered from thy infirmity’ (Luke 13:12). Instantly the woman was cured.
The ruler of the synagogue, more solicitous for the observance of the Sabbath laws than for the mercy of God, protested because Jesus had worked His wonderful cure on the Sabbath. Jesus replied, ‘Hypocrites! does not each of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or ass from the manger, and lead it forth to water? And this woman, daughter of Abraham as she is, whom satan has bound, lo, for eighteen years, ought not she to have been loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?’ (Luke 13:15-16).
This reply shamed the adversaries of Jesus, but no doubt it only hardened their opposition to Him. Once again the peace which Jesus brought was the occasion of discord among the Chosen People. He Who had come as a sign of salvation was a sign of contradiction. In the freedom of His love God came into this world to save men, and though some few accepted Him in joy, others in the freedom of their self-love rejected Him.”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959