Date: Sunday, August 18, 2019
Some folks pushing 70 may recall an event that took place on a farm in Bethel, NY. Bethel is the name of the place in the Bible where Jacob dreams of seeing angels of God. “Bethel” in Hebrew means “House of God.” Can anyone remember the event? August 15-17, 1969. It was billed as a music and arts fair. Performers included Jimi Hendrix, Joe Crocker, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Santana and the Grateful Dead. 3 Days of Peace and Music. It was a calamity: rain, mud, food shortages and medical emergencies. Woodstock! My guess is those who attended 50 years ago and those who are glad they didn’t attend will be shocked by the words of Jesus today in the Gospel according to St. Luke.
“Do you think I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” These are shocking words to some but less surprising if we recall the prophesy of Simeon to Mary, the mother of Jesus, at his presentation as a baby at the temple: “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.”
It is the job description of a prophet, like Jeremiah, to speak truth to power. There is a cost. Jeremiah is lowered into a cistern to remove him and silence his voice. Opposition to Jesus will intensify and harden. Jesus defines his own mission as “coming to set fire on earth.” Disciples who continue to follow him grow in faith and understanding. Those broken in spirit and body receive healing and forgiveness. But more and more people find Jesus disruptive and a threat to their way of life.
Jesus teaches that peacemakers will be called children of God. But true peacemaking comes with suffering. If we aim to avoid conflict, the Gospel will have no impact on the world. Pope Benedict writes: “For this message is in fact there precisely in order to conflict with our behavior, to tear man out of his life of lies and to bring clarity and truth. Truth does not come cheap. It makes demands and it also burns.” Benedictus, page 5.