Like most priests, I am a huge fan of Monty Python's "Life of Brian", a movie about a man who gets mistaken for the Messiah.
Not surprisingly, the movie was banned in many places in the British Isles when it first came out. It was branded heretical.
Years later, when the comedy troupe was interviewed about the movie, they mused that originally they wanted to make a movie which poked fun at Jesus himself. After doing some research, however, they discovered that Jesus did not really open himself up to comedy because what he had to say was just good moral philosophy.
What they did think was funny was that Jesus said all these great things like "Love thy neighbour" and his followers spent the next 2000 years slaughtering and torturing each other because they couldn't decide how he had worded it.
This week's Gospel passage (Luke 12:49-56) is one example of a passage that is open to a fair degree of interpretation.
It speaks of fire and division, of things to come. Pretty scary stuff. But the problem with the written word is that it does not convey inflection or any number of subtle non-verbal nuances that Jesus' original listeners would have been privy to.
We could, of course, interpret this passage at a surface level: Jesus relishes the thought of a coming judgment and he relishes the thought of family members being at each others' throats.
That doesn't quite jive with me.
Like most people, I have an image of Jesus: tender, compassionate, forgiving. The person speaking in this Gospel passage does not sound like Jesus if we assume that he is speaking with a tone of joy, triumph and/or anger. However, reread the passage with a tone of sadness, of weary resignation, and we might be getting closer to the spirit in which the passage was intended.
Would Jesus relish the thought of families being divided? I have my doubts. However, being the shrewd judge of human nature that Jesus seems to have been, he must have known that even his message of peace, justice, love and compassion would cause rifts between family members who wanted to follow this new way, and those who wanted no part of it.
The fact of the matter is that we have all probably had to make difficult decisions in life. We have had to do what we thought was right, sometimes at the expense of relationships with people who cannot journey with us. Jesus certainly did: from other Gospel passages, it is clear that some of his family members thought he was insane, or at least an embarrassment.
But he had to do what was right.
Jesus was clear on a few things: there was such a thing as right and wrong, and there was very little wiggle room on either side. Love, compassion, justice and mercy were right. What showed love to God and to neighbour was right. What did not WAS not.
When we are faced with having to make a difficult decision, one which may fracture relationships, we are faced with a conundrum: be true to ourselves and to our own calling, or be true to someone else and what they want us to be.
There is no easy answer, but if you are facing such a decision in your own life, I wish you grace and blessings.
To download my sermon, click here.