I am not here to bring peace, but rather division
This is the most shocking gospel passage that our ears could hear. Don’t we work hard at our relationships? Don’t we teach our children that the family is the most important unit they have? When everything else falls away – you can rely on family. The family is the basic unit of society; it gives/shapes identity; it provides the basic need for belonging and connection. It is from family that we can step out and give to the wider community and have the confidence to become even more for others. So it is anathema to listen to the words of Jesus proclaiming that he has come to bring division, not peace and that he has come to divide households.
Yet, we need to look again. In the wonder and beauty and nourishment that family brings there can be another side. Because families are the closest relationships we have, they are also the places where the deepest violence can occur. It is in families that the hidden reality of abuse is often concealed – domestic violence (physical and emotional), and child sex abuse. It is in families that silences can be kept; that truths can be unspoken in the name of short lived peace; that appearances can be maintained at the expense of growth, and that unaddressed hurts and wounds can fester and cripple. (This is so in individual families and in the human family.)
Today’s reading is a challenge for us to allow the gospel to infiltrate the deep recesses of the family structure and relationships and convert them, challenge them and bring them before the wor(l)d of Christ.
Jesus appears to know that the preaching and activity, with which he had been associated, was becoming increasingly threatening and aggravating to his religious family. The challenge he brought to accepted practices and attitudes as well as his confrontation on who is in and who is out (clean and unclean; worthy and unworthy) was reaching a crescendo. They would put him to death, so great was his disturbance. But the threat of a violent death would not prevent his mission. His resurrection should give us the courage to speak out and not be silenced even within the family. For, to quote Saint John, those who hear the word of God and act on it are my brothers, and sisters, and mother.
Let us pray for our families this week, that they may be truly places of love, faith and hope. Let us pray also for the courage to live with one another in integrity, listening to the word of God in our hearts and minds, and listening with openness and love to one another. Let us pray for the courage to know when to be silent and to know when to speak – particularly the difficult words when lives are at risk and human hearts are suffering.
By Fr Brendan Reed