So a division occurred in the crowd because of Him (John 7:43).
“Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on, a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three…” (Luke 12: 51-52).
“Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35).
It is characteristic of every age to concentrate on a particular aspect of Our Lord’s personality and to define that largely as the totality of His life. Our age primarily paints Jesus as a mild-mannered, sweet, vanilla-type personality that simply went around the countryside preaching love, love, love. Who would want to crucify someone like that? The contemporary idea of Jesus fits well with the Hallmark, Touched By an Angel mentality and nothing more beyond that quite often. (Nota bene: while religious shows like Touched By an Angel and many others may be entertaining, we do not take our theology from such shows precisely because in order to be successful, they have to present God in the most general, innocuous way so as not to offend anyone!).
The question then becomes why the religious leaders and even the people themselves turned on Jesus and demanded His death. A person preaching just a saccharin type of love, love, love will not end up on a wooden gibbet for three hours dying the most humiliating death possible in the Roman Empire. The readings at Mass this past week provide us with the answer. We see how Jesus caused division. He meant to cause division. Simeon prophesied when Christ was just days old that Jesus would be the cause of the fall and rise of many among His own nation. St. John states in his Prologue that even though the eternal Son of God came to His own people, they preferred to remain in darkness and refused to recognize their Messiah. Why did they remain blind? The leaders of Israel were absolutely convinced that they and they alone interpreted the prophecies concerning the Messiah correctly. According to their misunderstanding, Jesus did not fit their expectations.
In the Gospels, Jesus is always causing division. He Himself states that is why He came (see the abovementioned quote). Jesus was not the Messiah of the common understanding neither in His day nor in ours. We often hear about the virtue of establishing and maintaining peace. However, there is authentic peace and a false irenicism. This false peace is no peace at all. Peace founded on error is only an illusion. We see that many times throughout history. In recent history, for example, Neville Chamberlain of England and the powers of Europe wanted to avoid war at all costs, and Adolf Hitler was acutely aware of this. He signed a treaty that he had no interest in truly maintaining. Even though Chamberlain hailed the treaty triumphantly, the false peace only allowed Hitler illegally to continue his munitions build-up. The rest, as they say, is history.
Jesus’ mission caused His followers to make a decision either for or against Him. Many of His followers, in fact, did abandon Him when Jesus preached that He is the Bread of Life and that they would be eating His true Flesh and drinking His real Blood (see John 6). Many walked away, and He allowed them to do so. Jesus causes division. His division, however, is based on truth. He does not deceive. Rather, He invites. He wants us to come into His inner family, as it were, and learn from Him because He is meek and humble of Heart (see Matthew 11:29). That does not mean that Jesus is a soft push-over. Instead, His peace and His meekness serve us who are open to the invitation to learn everything from Him—including His Cross. All aspects of His life are reflected in our own. We do not get to pick and choose. Jesus does not offer us part of Himself while keeping some aspects of His divine life hidden. We receive the whole Christ just as we receive Him in Holy Communion: not part of Him, but Jesus’ real presence with His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. While we cannot attain everything we desire in life, we can attain the fullness of what God desires to give to us when we abandon ourselves to His will in greater trust.
What is the division that Jesus is speaking of, then? He is not talking about such mundane divisions according to politics, nationality, or economics and certainly not a jihad. As always, Our Lord reaches down into the interior life of each one of us. We all face a choice daily to follow Christ or something inferior. The world today presents all sorts of things before our minds and eyes that meant to be the latest fad that will satisfy us. However, how often do those things only satisfy us five minutes and then we are onto something else? Our spiritual enemies, the demons, want us to live in a continual state of mental and spiritual frenzy because when we do, we are not recollected properly on God, who is our greatest Good and the only One who can truly satisfy.
Jesus’ division is one of choosing Him over all else. As the classic Jesuits used to teach correctly, the goods of our life are only meant to serve our ultimate union with God. To the extent that they help us, we use them. To the extent that they distract us, we get rid of them. The reason the religious leaders of His time could not recognize Jesus as the true Messiah was because they placed themselves as the greatest good. Their own ego was superior, or so they thought. When we choose Jesus, however, we necessarily say “no” to certain things and actions. Worldly persons cannot understand this because the contemporary philosophy demands that anything progressive morally should always be answered with a “yes,” or else you are branded a “hater.” Authentic Christians by definition are labeled “haters” today because they recognize Jesus Christ as the only Way, the Truth, and the Life. All flows from Him and all flows back to Him. There is still no greater division in the world: either we accept Jesus as the Lord of our life, or we make ourselves our own false lord.
The greatest division we can experience, therefore, is an interior one where we know Who we should be following, and yet, we often choose lesser goods. The gift of understanding from the Holy Spirit, in fact, allows us to know clearly where the dividing line is between what brings us into union with Jesus even further each day and what will separate us from Him. Following Him will always bring an interior peace that every person longs for along with an internal orientation toward God as our greatest Good with no false divisions interiorly. As we proceed closer to Holy Week, may we prepare worthily by looking into our heart, mind, soul, and conscience and ready ourselves for Christ’s renewed presence in our life with a good and thorough Confession.
May you have a most blessed and holy week!
Fr. Shawn William Cutler