I have come not to establish
 peace but division

These words of Jesus sound so different from our usual image of him. So many times, we hear about Jesus being "good and gentle, meek and mild." In these past few weeks, in this same Lukeís gospel, weíve heard Jesus describe himself as the Good Shepherd, and he taught us to be like the Good Samaritan and the father of the Prodigal Son. He always seems to reaching out to people, to forgive people, to welcome and include people. Todayís reading, however, might shock us. This gospel stands in marked contrast to our usual image of Jesus. Was Jesus just having a bad day? Was he experiencing a bad mood? Many of us could accept that explanation. A divisive Jesus, however, disturbs the popular perception of him.

Letís look at this gospel reading in broader context. This chapter twelve begins by Jesusí urging people to be strong under persecution: "do not be afraid of those who kill the body, but not the soul." (v. 4) Times were difficult; tensions were rising. Next, he warns his disciples to trust in God, not in wealth. Two weeks ago, we read about the rich farmer, about whom Jesus commented: "You fool this very night, your life shall be required of you. Ö Only a fool "grows rich for himself instead of growing rich in the sight of God." (vv. 20-21) Next, he urges his disciples to trust in God: "Be like the lilies of the field; they do not spin, they do not weave, but Ö Solomon in all his splendor was not arrayed like any one of them." (v. 27) In last weekís gospel Jesus observed, "where your treasure is, there your heart will be." (v. 24) And in todayís reading, Jesus advises his followers to prepare for the Masterís return: "Do not think that I have come to establish peace; Ö the contrary is true, I have come for division." (v.32) You can see the development of decision-making and prioritizing that Jesus has been calling us to do in recent weeks.

Division occurs for many reasons, one of which is the assertion of standards, right and wrong, good and evil. Jesus and his Church have standards. Parents have standards. Parents encourage their children, "Make your bed and clean your room before you go out." Teachers have standards; they say "homework is due on my desk by a certain date by a certain time." Having standards upsets people: church-goers, children, students. Standards upset me when I have to be at morning prayer every day at 6:30 am. A caution, please. Standards and principles have a flip-side, a shadow-side. Having standards and principles can lead to intolerance, inflexibility, and self-righteousness. Try to maintain moral principles without falling into the pitfalls of either extreme: being too loose, or too strict.

Where would we be without standards? Those who can remember the "anything goes atmosphere" of the 1960s and 1970s recall that having no standards leads to chaos. Actually, having no standards eliminates the possibility of happiness; happiness results from achieving good goals by good means. Without goals, or standards, there can be no happiness, philosophically and historically.

Some time ago, while I was traveling far away from Emmitsburg, I met a Protestant minister, whose denomination is none of those in our town. After having shared pleasant and interesting conversation for a good while, I asked the minister, "What does your church teach regarding abortion and same-sex marriages?" The minister replied that their bishops have instructed the denominationís ministers that they are not to teach right and wrong in these two areas, but simply "to support" everyone who comes to them, no matter what their situation or conduct. This policy sounds different than Jesusí teaching in todayís gospel that he comes not to bring peace, but division. Division upsets us all; we prefer peace and harmony, but at what price? We Catholics try to maintain the standards of Jesus and his Church, and we invite all others to follow these standards. Nevertheless, be alert: some husbands and wives, and sons and daughters will accept Jesusí teaching, and within the same family, some members likely wonít accept Jesus.

In the last words of Luke, chapter 12, Jesus observes that most people can read the signs of the times regarding weather, i.e., whether or not it will be sunny, rainy, or windy. He asks, with some apparent exasperation, why canít you read and hear and understand the signs of what Iím saying to you. He seems to ask, why donít respond to me right now? In summing up part of the message of Luke 12, it is good for us to ponder: 1) Will you choose fear or courage in our post-Christian era; 2) will you opt for growing rich for yourself, or for growing rich in the sight of God; 3) will you depend on Godís providence or do you depend primarily on yourself and your own efforts; 4) where is your treasure, where is your heart? Indeed, Jesus comes as good and gentle, meek and mild, and as a divider: those who will opt for secular goals or those who will opt for Jesus and the Church which Jesus founded.

Read other homilies by Father O'Malley