The Rev. Melanie McCarley
The phrase “to be at odds with another” is a familiar one to many of us. But have you ever paused to think about what it means? Consider that the number five is never going to divide equally—if you separate out the odds, the results are not even, you’re left with a half, a quarter, a third, or something in between. Recall, if you will, King Solomon’s suggestion to the two mothers in First Kings, each claiming a baby was theirs--splitting the child in half wasn’t going to get anyone the result for which they were hoping. To be at odds with another means that things are going to get messy.
Enter our Savior in the twelfth Chapter of Luke’s Gospel who says: “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother…”
What did he say? This sounds less like Good News and more like a verbal tear? Isn’t Jesus supposed to be all about love, happiness and getting along—turning the other cheek, making nice? Apparently not.
So, let’s look a bit closer at what might have prompted these flaming words—so hot you almost need asbestos gloves to pick them up.
If we’re shocked at hearing these words coming from the mouth of our Savior, consider that those around him were hit from a bolt out of the blue as well. While it’s not really clear what prompted this response from Jesus, we can make some educated guesses. Here’s mine. Maybe our Lord is reacting against that all-too human tendency to tamp down controversy when things are getting a bit---shall we say, warm. Think of it; at this point in his ministry, Jesus was beginning to get under the skin of the Pharisaic establishment. He was, in the minds of many, stirring up a pot of trouble. So, doesn’t it make sense that some of the people, indeed, the ones who loved him most would like nothing better than to throw some water on the flames just a bit—issuing well-intended guidance along the lines of “Can’t we all just get along? Let’s go along to get along. Live and let live. We agree on so much more than we disagree upon. We’re all on the same team. So, let’s get together—Pharisees, Sadducees, Chief Priests, Jesus, Jesus’ disciples—and all start pulling our oars in the same direction, OK?” Please…pretty please? To which Jesus issues a resounding “No.”
From which we learn the following: Becoming a disciple of Christ isn’t mostly about being nice and getting along. Sometimes, being a disciple of the King of Peace means standing your ground, come what may. In the words of Tom Petty: “Gonna stand my ground, won’t be turned around. And I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down. Gonna stand my ground.”
Think of it this way. Jesus didn’t come to prop up the old ways. He wasn’t about perpetuating more of the same. The coming of God’s Kingdom wasn’t akin to redecorating the temple—what it really came down to, was tearing it down to the foundation itself.
These are difficult words and a troubling concept. Becoming a disciple of Jesus places you in the very real possibility of being at odds with the world: with the political and governmental institutions, possibly with your place of work, your friends and members of your family. If you truly want to follow Christ, sometimes compromise is not in order.
Consider how the decision to become a follower of Jesus made by Francesco di Bernadone changed his life. He was the idealistic son of a prosperous cloth merchant in the 11th century. Francesco sensed that his father had more than he needed and so he took bolts of cloth from his father’s business, sold them and gave the money away to restore a run down chapel. His father was outraged (understandably, I might add), and responded by dragging his son before the bishop, demanding the return of his property and goods.
Francesco agreed, (what he had done, rally had gone beyond the bounds of propriety), and responded: “From now on I will no longer say, “My Father Pietro di Bernadone, but Our Father who art in heaven.” He gave his father not only his property and goods back, but the money and all of his clothes—all of them—right there in front of the bishop and his acolytes--as well.
Really? Did it have to be so dramatic? Could the son not have offered to work off the money, return home and help his father to run the family business and still give ample amounts of money to help the poor? Perhaps. But he wouldn’t have been St. Francis of Assisi if he did. He would not have been true to himself or true to his calling to follow Christ had he done so.
When Francis walked out of that church, he wasn’t angry—his heart was overflowing with joy. His Father in Heaven had indeed set him free from all attachment to earthly things. Francis discovered that he was, at last, ready to serve the Lord simply and without fear. And he did precisely that, until the end of his earthly life.
So, if Jesus wasn’t about propping up the religious establishment of his day—but was instead, advocating something far more drastic, perhaps it makes sense that a strong measure of disruption is to be expected with the coming of God’s Kingdom. In this sense, if we find that we aren’t at odds with some of what is happening in the world—perhaps we need to step back and take a good look at what is going on around us. There are some moral issues for which conciliation does not apply.
The words we hear from our Savior this morning are troubling. They hint at the cost of being a disciple; and they call us to consider what we are willing to give up in order to follow our Lord. How much discomfort are we willing to endure in order to follow Jesus? For if we are faithful, in the end, we shall discover that we are not really at odds at all. Instead, we shall discover that we have been brought together and made one, in fullness with Christ our Lord. In Jesus’ name. Amen.