Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.

Author: 
Fr Alec
Date: 
Sunday, August 14, 2016 - 9:30am


 

Well…what a thing to say. Not peace, but division. What can Jesus possibly mean here? What can this mean coming from the lips of him who was to say ‘Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you…’?

 

Well, in reflecting on this question I found myself recalling a short exchange in which I was briefly involved a few years ago. A blogger had written an article during the 2012 Olympics. In it he lamented the coyness of reporting on athletes’ obvious religious beliefs. Focussing on Usain Bolt, he wrote:

 

‘We were given insights into his family life, with comments by his brother, parents and coach. The focus on the personal has been intense.

But not one mention of Bolt's faith.

While he was manifestly thanking God on his knees for yesterday's victory, the BBC presenter spun this spontaneous act of worship as Bolt having 'a moment to himself'. This manifestly blurs the significance for the viewer… What they refer to as 'a moment to himself' is a glorious outpouring of thanks and praise to God.’

 

This it seems to me was fair comment. Very often faith is subtly airbrushed out of the picture in mainstream media. Not so much, I suspect, out of hostility, as liberal discomfort with talking about spiritual matters in the public sphere.

 

Now this article was posted on Twitter, and one of those who responded by making a comment said this:

‘Why does the BBC ignore Usain Bolt’s God? Because faith is private and we can see that it is important to him without fatuous broadcasters mentioning it?’

 

And this in particular upset me. This is the great misconception about faith. It is not, emphatically NOT, private. It is not concealed. It is not a discreet belief or opinion set apart to be digested in one’s spare time. It either informs our every thought and action, our whole conception of the world, or it is not faith.

 

The saints and martyrs did not suffer and die for a personal opinion. Martin Luther King was not assassinated for keeping his faith to himself. William Wilberforce’s long struggle and final victory against the slave trade was not achieved by fondly imagining a deity who made no claim on his life.

 

And this is just the issue at stake. Seen from the outside, Faith is understood as an irrational belief. The conjuring-up of an imaginary friend to comfort us when we come up against the sharp edges of life and fate. However, from the inside it is something else. It is the recognition that we find ourselves in relationship with an all-loving God, and that this relationship changes our whole attitude to the world around us. It is not a neutral stage on which we act out the drama of our lives. It is a gift inviting us to respond by giving ourselves.

 

From the outside perspective, Faith can only be a personal matter, because it is all about the subject – ‘I believe in God’. But from the inside it cannot possibly be private, because it is all about the object – ‘I believe in God’ In other words, Faith is not about what our belief does for us, rather it is about what we are compelled to do when we find ourselves the recipients of God’s outrageous love. Faith begins outside us. It is not an invention, it is a response. Jesus meets us where we are and invites us on a journey.

 

Because of this, Faith demands of us a choice. A choice about what we accept as true. And the difficulty with claims about truth is that they are inherently divisive.

If my Faith tells me that all people are made in the image of God, I find myself in natural opposition to those who would enslave or exploit them.

If my Faith tells me that human life is of surpassing value, I am set against those who would throw it away to suit their own greed or convenience.

If my Faith tells me that I must forgive those who wrong me and love those who wish me harm, then I am duty-bound to stand up against those who expect me to join in a chorus of hatred or join them in a campaign of revenge.

 

And it doesn’t make any difference who these people are. We cannot say that black is white just to appease others, even if they are those whom we love most.

Does this mean that God invites us to go around picking fights? Certainly not. Does this mean that we are expected to reject those who disagree with us? No.

But it does mean that the way of discipleship, the Way of the Cross opens up the possibility, indeed the likelihood, the inevitability, that we will be mocked, rejected and persecuted for what we believe. That we will cause offence, not by deliberately being obnoxious, but simply through trying humbly and with integrity to live out the Kingdom of God.

 

Jesus bids us to join him in a relationship of peace. The deep shalom that is reconciliation and forgiveness and harmony. He has made peace between us and God by his death and resurrection, and commands us to live at peace with one another. He does not invite division, but knows simply that by ushering in the Kingdom of Heaven, the new order which he reveals all around us, he set himself and all who follow him at odds with the values of this world. Yet our response to this dissonance, this division, should not be a prickly defensiveness, still less a timorous hibernation. We must have the courage to stand out and to stand up. To be the peacemakers who will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.