…no justice, no peace
know justice, know peace…
August 18, 2019
Scripture: Luke 12:49-56
In truth, this is almost an impossible scripture, and one often avoided by me if not by many in trying to figure out just what Jesus was seeking to convey with these most difficult words. I think most of us have a sense of what is needed, at least in our own lives, in order for us to have hope, and a sense of purpose or even peacefulness. We have some notion or belief in what ‘stars need to be aligned’, and what needs to be in what order, for us to look forward to the future with some measure of confidence. And it is some of those very same things that seem to be, if not outright rejected, at least called into question by Jesus’ words in our scripture passage from Luke.
I think that a sense of a unity of purpose and the pursuit of peace and harmony are at the top of most everyone’s list, along with the sacredness of family and family relationships when it comes to those things which we all value as necessary to live with optimism and hope. Even in spite of the turmoil in our society and the world at this particular time in history, it is this personal space, this place close to home and heart that we feel most comfortable turning to in order to obtain the energy to ‘buck up and carry on’. It is this place in our lives that we feel we need to be able to rely on as a bedrock place to be able to stand against all else. And to hear Jesus seemingly indicate that this is not only not enough, but definitely not something we can call upon even as a last resort is disconcerting to say the least! Nonetheless, his words about ‘bringing division’, and families ‘being torn apart’ because of him are there in black and white. So…how are we to understand them as words of hope and promise from what we believe is our loving God?
Somewhere it seems, there must be a deeper message contained within this passage which at first glance eludes us. And that message I believe, is that Jesus was saying that, until there was division and radical social upheaval and change in the world around us…until the prevailing social order of his day and of ours is somehow broken down and replaced with a new vision of God’s peace and God’s justice, that true Godly peace on earth is just not possible. ‘Things have to change’ Jesus seems to be saying. ‘I did not come here just to bless your current understanding, or to physically overthrow the oppressive and unjust Roman order’…rather, ‘I came to teach you that the true way to holiness is through change and newness of understanding that at present is far outside of your understanding or expectations.’
Jesus was far from satisfied with the way the culture and historical trajectory of humanity had evolved to that point, and far from believing that what was broken could be somehow fixed or repaired. In truth, that premise makes a good case for why God chose to dwell amongst us as a human being in the first place. No, rather than blessing or fixing our own broken understanding of the call to truly love one another, I believe that Jesus was saying that only fully replacing the ‘old’ with his ‘new’ would lead to the true and lasting salvation of the family human. It is not by us finding the creativity or wisdom to learn how to ‘better get along with each other’, but instead a willingness to submit to the new and wholly different message that Jesus sought to convey, that a truly godly and holy future characterized by lasting peace might be brought forth.
I think that there is much more in our passage than initially meets the eye…much more that can only be discerned through an in-depth or ‘eyes-wide-open’ look at what Jesus is actually saying. I think that perhaps Jesus was using the sacred institution of family in order to shock people into listening more closely to what he was actually saying. And that is that, how God initially created and intended for Creation to grow and to thrive was, and still is, fully opposite of what had in fact evolved. Jesus seems to be saying that everything about life and our understanding of our role and place in regard both to Creation and to each other, is supposed to be far different than that which we now live and practice.
These words of Jesus are so disturbing and so contrary to us, presenting almost a fully upside-down view of all we understand as the purpose of, and pathway towards healthy living. Which begs the question; was Jesus actually trying to tell us that the ‘common culture of understanding’ held by most of those present, and by extension most Americans, may somehow be at odds with the primary message of the gospels? And if so, what does Jesus offer as the solution to bring our understanding and God’s hopes for humanity closer into line? Is it possible that this scripture is so difficult for us because in truth, our times are not all that different from the ones in which Jesus first voiced these thoughts? Have we gone on now for close to two thousand years seeking on our own to create a society and culture that is good and hopeful, only to find that these words, which when first spoken were not only difficult but revolutionary, are still words that cause us to stumble and protest today? Did humanity miss the point of Jesus’ words that day and since? And if so, is it possible for us to find a way to better understand their meaning?
I’m afraid, not without facing the same difficult choices and the same call for engagement Jesus was calling for. And that is because, in truth, to some extent we have come to where we are, here and now, by increasingly being better at being less loving. Let me rephrase that, we have found ways to create and sustain a society and culture that is beneficial to some and unfortunately, quite selective in terms of who is ‘loved’, and who is not loved well at all. Somewhere and somehow, we need to find the courage to affirm that what Jesus was so critical of regarding the excesses and oppressive nature of the Roman Empire carries over with an almost ‘glove-fit likeness’ on to our own contemporary culture and social behavior. The two ‘empires’ have much in common. And this passage where Jesus is contrasting the Kingdom of God with all the various ‘kingdoms of man’ (gender bias intended), tells us that we have much to do and far to travel before we are close to following after Jesus’ call and urgent command to love every ‘one-another’.
Which calls into question what or who it is that is truly ‘lord’ over our life? ‘What’ or ‘who’ do we feel deserves our deepest loyalty and attention? What is it or who is it that we trust the most to keep us safe and ultimately satisfied? Is our Lord Jesus truly our one and only Lord, and does he share our trust, our allegiance, and our devotion with no one else or ‘no-thing’ else? Or do we have a sort of ‘hybrid’ understanding of how faith is supposed to fit into or be a part of our life? Do we trust in God for certain things, like life after death, or comfort in times of sickness or loss, and then trust in our own resources and capabilities when it comes to things we wish for, or certain types of, or levels of security? Are we truly able to place our whole trust in this God we cannot see? Or do we hold back just a little, just in case God doesn’t come through as we wished he would have? These are not small questions, but then, this is truly not an easy scripture!
But even if we do find the way to trust in God with all we are and all we have, how are we to deal with Jesus’ words saying that he came ‘not to bring peace but rather division’? Don’t we still need some sort of guide, some sort of road map to make our way through this world of division and hostility, even as those who trust in God for everything?
I think that this portion of our passage is hard to comprehend because I believe that our understanding of peace is quite different from God’s vision and promise of real and lasting peace. I think that our notion of peace is most often merely a temporary break in hostilities, a period of time when various warring factions step back to re-stock or to re-group before resuming the battle, rather than a real and lasting commitment to find a way for all live together peacefully.
Truthfully though, God’s peace is far from that which we are able to carve out and tenuously preserve through military force or dominance. I believe that God’s peace can only result from a unified effort to work for and to realize the promises of God in our own time. Peace that ‘passes all understanding’ passes that understanding not because it is so different and so unbelievable but rather because it is fully different than what we think it should be. True godly peace can only be attained through active engagement that seeks to change the social structures and systems that work against, and seek to prevent unity and justice for all of humanity. Jesus said he did not come to bring the ‘peace’ we all expect, but rather to ‘kindle the fire’ within culture and society that will result in a complete defeat and replacement of the dominant and oppressive schemes and regimes that now imprison the souls of so many…a defeat of all of the systemic ‘isms’ that hold them bound in poverty, oppression, and rank injustice. The peace of God, different than the peace of the world, is that which results from a complete abandonment by the faithful unto the Lord, and a dogged following of his call to live and act in ways that promote justice for all of humanity. ‘Seek ye first’, the gospel writer intoned, ‘the Kingdom of God, and his justice…’
We will never know the true peace of our Lord as long as we continue to subscribe to and follow after all of the lesser ‘gods’ Jesus was seeking to defeat. And indeed, there are many such forces that capture and hold our attention…other lesser voices of authority promising security, or abundance, success, status…or perhaps even family health or ‘unity’. Seldom if ever are the goals of these lesser ‘gods’ fully aligned with the purposes of our God. In fact, most often the loudest ‘voices’ in our culture are quite out of step with the pursuit of justice and equality for all.
In reading through various commentaries on our passage, I happened upon an essay by Alan Brehm, a Presbyterian minister down in Texas. I have read his work before and found it to have valuable insight, however this time there was one sentence that caught my imagination…one phrase that seemed to capture the deeper meaning and perhaps intent of Jesus’ words in our passage from Luke. Alan said simply that, “The cost of peace…is justice”. The cost of peace…is justice.
Jesus came to set fire to the dominant order that so imprisons humankind in strife and struggle, to once and for all do away with that which truly separates us one from another and instead to show us a way towards returning to the balance and harmony of the original Creation that God had deemed ‘indeed good’. And he calls us to ‘pay this cost’ by establishing real justice for all, in order that a day of true and lasting peace might be ushered in. But what is this ‘justice’ that Alan Brehm is referring to here?
It is justice according to Jesus…justice that can only be attained as the ‘valleys’ of poverty and oppression, of all forms of racism, sexism, bias, and discrimination are lifted up through dedicated and faithful social action and sacrifice and, as the ‘mountains’ of unjustly and inequitably acquired and distributed wealth, as well as systems designed solely to benefit the rich and powerful are brought down low through the grace of God as it is brought to bear through the sacrifice and commitment of those who follow after Christ with their whole heart, mind, and soul.
Truly Jesus is calling here for radical change to our existing social order and structure. Truly Jesus has called for all of humanity to abandon their selfish ways and to participate in working to bring in a new kingdom of love and human understanding.
I guess somewhere…it all depends on which ‘God’ we choose to follow…
For indeed, true peace is possible, but not until we also give birth to justice…for all…in our land…and in this time.