This weekend, the gospel of Luke invites us to see a more challenging imageof Jesus than we are used to seeing. It is not the image of the sweet baby Jesusasleep on the hay, walking on the Sea of Galilee, engaging in miracles of healing, the bringer of peace, or the one suffering and dying-for-me on the cross. It is an uncomfortableimage of Jesus who bringsfire upon the earth,familyconflictand division, challengingour identity and way of life.
The gospel of Luke comments on the many relationships each of us has in our life. Our distinct identity as persons is given by our various relationships: biological, natural, social and political. Regardless of whether we judge them as good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, taken together this vast complex of relationshipsmakes you and me the persons we are. These include our relationships with familyand friends, our pets, the natural environment, our work, our country, our beliefs, and the things we possess. Some of these relationships are tangible and associated with people, places, animals and objects. Some are not so tangible but no less real: our spiritual relationships, beliefs, values, attitudes.
Ultimately, however, only one of these many relationships can finally be the most significant and decisive for us. This one relationship makes us uniquely who we are and not someone else. For example, if I decide that my relationship with my spouse is the definitive one, then all my other relationships will be seen and lived out through this one relationship with my spouse.
Jesus’ relationship with the Father is what ultimately determines his identity and being. He freely chose that one relationship above all others. That does not mean he rejects all others. Rather all his other relationships are mediatedthrough his relationship with the Father. Jesus’ choice brought about division with the religious leaders, the world and all who would choose differently.
That is the choice Jesus sets before us today. It is a choice that may initially bring division. “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” We may be wondering how this image of Jesus can be helpful to us when we are already more than aware of the divisions in and around us. We are divided socially, racially, economically, politically, religiouslynot only in our own country, but throughout the world. There is division in marriages and families, in the workplace, in our schools and in our nation, but this is not the division that Jesus is speaking of. His division is not a division that kills, oppresses, or separates.
The division that Jesus is speaking about is growth. Jesus is growing us up into the fullness of life and holiness. Regardless of our age, we are always in the process of growing up. But growing up is difficult and often painful work. Division is the way of life and growth. It means choosing God our Father as the one primary relationship that finally determines who we are and what we do.
If we choose the Father as that one relationship then it means our parents, children, spouses, or friends do not determine who we are. It means that our jobs, our country, our politics, our possessions do not create our identity. God now determines those things. All other relationships exist within the context of our relationship with God our Father. This leads to new dynamics, new priorities, and new divisions.
Just as division offers physical, emotional and spiritual growth, Jesus is calling us to put our relationship with God our Father first, and by doing so enter more deeply in all other relationships that makes growth possible. For our part we must reexamine our relationships and the priorities we have given them. We must choose a relationship with God our Father, not in exclusion of other people, places or objects, but one that gives us our truest and most authentic identity. This division does not diminish or reject others; instead, it offers wholeness and perfection. It is the division that transforms our lives, makes sacredall our other relationships, and ultimately healsthe world.
Let us turn to our Heavenly Father in prayer as we strive to put God first in our lives: Heavenly Father,we ask that you guide our decisions and turn our hearts to deeply desire you above all else. We ask that you open doors needing to be opened and close the ones needing to be shut tight. We ask that you help us release our grip on the things to which you’ve said “no,” “not yet,” or “wait.” We ask for help to pursue you first, above every dream and desire you’ve put within our hearts. We ask that your wisdom, strength and power to be constantly present within us. We pray you would make us strong and courageous for the road ahead. May we bring honor to You by lives of love and service, and may all be drawn to you. Amen.
Reflect on your life right now to consider what factors most determine how you choose to live: Who or what is the determining relationship that gives you your identity and being? What relationship matters so much to you that you allow it to shape your life and give you identity? Where are you investing most of your time, money and energy? Which relationships and activities do you devote yourself to every day? Where do you currently place God on your list of priorities? If your relationship with God isn’t your top priority right now, what specific changes do you need to make in your life to devote yourself to God first?