I have always thought yesterday’s gospel was harsh. Likely, we all prefer the comforting, peaceful Jesus rather than the Jesus who proclaims: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword.” And that is just the warm-up – here is what follows: “For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s enemies will be those of his household.” While I might think it harsh, perhaps a more important question is was it necessary. The Christian writer Flannery O’Connor has some insight about this:
“The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make these appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural; and he may well be forced to take ever more violent means to get his vision across to this hostile audience. When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal ways of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock — to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures.”
I wonder if sometimes we Christians are “hard of hearing” in that we have already decided on what a Scripture passage means. Many people tend to project their own ideas onto biblical texts rather than read what is actually there. Instead of being swept into the Bible’s story and having our world turned over and spun around, we are amazed at just how much we are like Jesus! And so, we sweep Jesus into our story. Then we are asking Jesus to be a disciple to “our gospel.”
One way in which to understand Jesus’ harsh words are to think about our gravity’s center. Is that central, drawing irresistible force Jesus? Our self interests? Materials things? Your political views? Is your family more central than Jesus? Other than Jesus all these things will go haywire at some point – and when they do does their “gravity” pull you towards ultimate good? Or does their “gravity” simple pull things apart.
When we get sidetracked to other “gravities”: to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures. And maybe the language will strike you as harsh. Maybe that is our signal to sit up and pay attention.