the penultimate WORD
Series 1998 - Proper 20 Canon Jim Irvine
"Do you think that I have come to bring peace...? No, ...rather division!"


[Jesus continued,] "Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!" Luke 12:51


Apart from our personal devotional reading of Scripture, as Anglicans, we encounter the Scriptures through the Lectionary readings appointed for public liturgies. Traditionally, we have listened to selections from both the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures. These have been as the First and Second Lesson at Morning and Evening Prayer or else as the Epistle and Gospel at the holy Eucharist.

The former would have been read from the lectern, and from one of a variety of Bibles authorized by the Bishop for use in the Diocese. The latter would be read from the Book of Common Prayer as selections from the King James Version of the Bible.

The Gospel selection appointed for today, assigned in the Revised Common Lectionary, is new to most of us.

Itís not likely that we have listened to Jesusí words here. Neither is it likely that we have ever listened to the text as the basis for the Sermon. Certainly, we would have heard it read as the Second Lesson at Evening Prayer on the Friday following the Eighth Sunday after Trinity. So, alright, we have never listened to the passage at Evening Prayer. But never would we have heard it read at the Eucharist any time of the year.

Jesusí words challenge us. "Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!" But the challenge is greatly diminished when we avoid reading them. Difficult passages, such as this one, are particularly easy to set aside in favour of more attractive sayings.

What possibly could he have meant by this? He did not come to bring peace? He came, rather, to bring division?

The image of Jesus as a picture of serenity, harmony and calm are ever before us in artistsí depictions in oils and statuary. From his birth to his death, his composure seems ever to have remained the same. In his motherís arms in the Adoration of the Magi, and in his motherís arms in the Pieta, his countenance seems always to have been one of serenity. In birth as well as death.

But the depiction is less than accurate in depicting his life. As he engaged the darkened hearted, as he engaged the empty hearted, in his dealings with the wounded hearted, Jesus inevitably presented the redeeming love that challenged injustice.

Jesus did not come to say "Everything is okay. Everything will be alright." Rather, he came to pronounce absolution, healing and good news. Recall that he stood in the synagogue in Capurnum and read from the scroll of Isaiah these words, "The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the LORDís favour, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zionó to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, to display his glory. They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations."

The oppressed, and the oppressors Ö the broken-hearted and those that break hearts Ö the captives and the captors. Jesus saw the divisions that wound the world and the pretence of peace that cloaks the deep wounds both inflicted and endured. In the midst of even the most familial divisions, Jesus presents to us a new awareness and a new relationship with the Father. In the challenging words of Jesus, we discover that the regenerating waters of Baptism confront the wisdom of the world and the adage that blood is thicker than water!

Copyright © 1998 James T. Irvine

Series 1998