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"Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword."
These are the opening words of today's gospel. Not exactly the message we might expect from the One who name as the Prince of Peace.
However, Jesus knew that his message of justice and love would be disruptive to the people of His society, and for that matter, the peoples of the world, both then, and now.
In His time, the general rule was that those who were rich maintained their wealth on the backs of others. Continuing the constant message of the prophets of the Old Testament, like what we heard in our 1st reading from the Prophet Isaiah today, His vision of a more egalitarian society threatened those who used force to control society and extracted wealth from the land by the labour of others, including slaves, resident aliens, and the poor. Underlying Jesus’ message of love and right relationships was a required conversion of the heart which would bring about a social transformation, and result in a truly just society.
Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel about conflict between generations and within families were validated quite soon. The early church witnessed a great upheaval when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D., and the subsequent exodus of Jewish and Jewish-Christian believers to the various parts of the Mediterranean world. The Roman Empire's persecution of Christians further split families as some tried to accommodate Rome while others maintained their faith in an underground church.
Jesus' words are now proven true in the different ways that families are split, for a variety of reasons, including at that times, the practice of the the faith.
Jesus’ words definitely disturb us. In this time of great uncertainty and upheaval during the COVID-19 pandemic. The underlying question is, if all else fails, what or whom can we depend on? If family loyalties fail or cannot provide support, if national governments cannot provide a united and thoughtful response to the crisis, what will we do? well, Jesus offers us Himself as a compass to follow. If we take up our cross and follow Him, we will not lose our way. Even if we lose our life for His sake, we will find it. For in the midst of great flux, Jesus provides the continuity we all need.