Wow – strong words from Jesus in this Sunday’s Gospel:
I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! . . . Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.
Well, Jesus, if your mission is division, mission accomplished. There’s a bucket full of division in the world now, and humans have done so much damage to the earth that it practically is on fire.
But does Jesus really want division and destruction? And shouldn’t we as his followers be about the work of peacemaking?
I think what Jesus is doing is naming a reality. His message and mission challenged the values of the culture around him – and the culture around us, too. There is a great tension between the injustice happening around us – violence, greed, and oppression – and the Gospel that we are sent to promote – compassion, love, and mercy. Living the Gospel means challenging injustice, and that work of peacemaking calls for some disruption. I don’t mean violent disruption, of course. A peaceful protest can disturb the tranquility of a politician’s office as people gather outside chanting for change. Even a silent protest can unsettle onlookers’ peace of mind; it can prick at their consciences, and that can be uncomfortable. The work of promoting justice itself can pull us out of the safety of our comfort; peacemaking is messy and doesn’t always feel peaceful.
Discomfort in the spiritual life is not a bad thing, though. In fact, if I’m not challenged by my faith, I’m missing something. We Christians must not lose our edge; we can’t portray the Gospel as some pithy, feel-good message and ignore its challenge. That’s a distortion of Jesus’ mission. I believe in civility but feeling comfortable is not the call of Christ. Neither is being nice. Christ calls his followers to profoundly compassionate love, the kind that sees those who are invisible to the rest of society, the kind that forgives enemies. That type of love is not “nice.” It’s a hard, gritty, risky kind of loving. It tends to disrupt my comfort, never mind who or what I’m attempting to challenge.
Our faith calls us to be a bold presence in the world, and, strange as it may sound, I think it also calls us to be audacious in our interior spiritual lives. I’m thinking of St. Ignatius and his Rules for Discernment. He says that sometimes in the spiritual life we are troubled by a “bad spirit,” something that brings anxiety or doubt or fallacious reasoning. When such a spirit is at work, Ignatius advises us to recognize that it’s not of God and to work against it. He says: be bold, be clever, and bring it out from its secret place into the light. In other words, disrupt it. Set it on fire.
I welcome that advice. When anxiety or unnecessary worry is working on me, I sometimes let it come and get me. It’s hard to extricate myself from it. I love the invitation to be bold in my reaction to it. It’s not from God – be gone! And then, ironically, as I disrupt a bad spirit, I do feel a genuine sense of peace. That peace is what comes from God.
Whether within us or outside of us, discouragement, despair, and oppression are not of God. A burning desire for mission is of God, as is a fiery longing to bring about the Reign of God. So, let’s be daring. Let’s catch the spark of Jesus’ yearning to break open counterfeit peace in order to do the disruptive work of genuine peacemaking. Some division is necessary as we figure out how to bring about the Peace of God. We will likely be uncomfortable, and that’s okay. Jesus was probably uncomfortable most of the time. And even when I’m uncomfortable, I draw some solace from belonging a movement, a community of like-hearted people striving together. I feel the presence of Christ who came to set the earth on fire, and we are kindling the blaze.
How about you? What about the message of Christ burns in you?
What holds you back from sharing it? How can you be bolder in your prayer life?
What is God calling you to do to bring about the Peace of Christ?
By Sister Leslie
Sister Leslie Keener, CDP is the director of God Space, a community-building spirituality ministry in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. She’s a Sister of Divine Providence with a Masters in Ministry and a Certificate in Spiritual Direction and Retreats from Creighton University. She directs retreats, meets with people for spiritual direction, and serves as the vocation director for her community. She also serves on the Coordinating Council of Spiritual Directors International. She enjoys music, meaningful conversations, and dancing.