“Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” (Lk 12:51).
We often hear Jesus preaching about oneness and unity. Today’s statement from Jesus can seem contradictory, yet what he is articulating is an observation about an unfortunate reality. Those who speak truth to power, like the long line of prophets, such as Jeremiah in the first reading, face harsh treatment. Jesus would be no different. If we are living out the Gospel in our daily lives it will also be true for us.
The sad reality is that we still witness division and polarization today. We have forgotten or no longer want to have a good argument. One in which each person speaks for what they believe in while at the same time respecting the other person’s right to do the same. Also, we no longer enter the argument to learn from one another, but to win.
Many in our society seek to put into practice the common adage: do not speak about politics or religion in polite company. The reason is that too many of these discussions have just devolved into ad hominem attacks in which we just disparage or belittle someone we disagree with. This is a shame because these are two areas in our lives that we need to discuss even while remaining passionate about them.
One of my favorite film scenes is from the 1989 film, Lean on Me, in which Robert Guillaume, acting as the school superintendent and Morgan Freeman, acting as a principle of the sub-par school he is trying to build up, have a passionate and heated argument. Each vehemently makes their case for their perspective and do not come to a mutual agreement, but when the smoke clears and their professional relationship and friendship appears to be over, there is a brief pause and one says, “Come on, let’s get something to eat.” There is a passionate argument for what the two believe in though no demeaning of the other, and instead, mutual respect.
Throughout the Gospels, we see that Jesus is a master of the argument because he knows and speaks the truth no matter the situation or pressure. He can speak among the religious and spiritual elite as well as the leper and the prostitute, yet in each case, the truth remains the same. He is not swayed by political, social or religious pressures. Jesus speaks the truth as his Father leads him. May we do the same while respecting and acknowledging the dignity of those for whom we engage with. May we, in the words of St. Mother Teresa, “Be a pencil in God’s hand.”
Photo clip from the film, Lean on Me, starring Robert Guillaume and Morgan Freeman, 1989