What kind of division is good? We are regularly encouraged to be one Body of Christ without any division among us (1 Corinthians 12:25) yet in today’s Gospel we have Jesus proclaiming: “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” What kind of division does Jesus seek to bring? He gives many examples of family members divided against each other, is this what Jesus wants?
Our answer can be sought in the context of this passage. Last week’s Gospel spoke of our need to build up the Kingdom of God without fear and without counting the cost. We are to be ready for the coming of Christ Jesus and to seek first the Kingdom, not the things of this earth. The passages that follow this Sunday’s Gospel reading will likewise tell us to avoid comparing ourselves to others and repent of our sins—to attend to the fruit we produce or fail to produce for God. We are to divide ourselves from temptation and sin; this is the division Jesus wants.
So, what will divide us from others and set us against others in this earthly life? To speak bluntly, not everyone is seeking the Kingdom of God; not everyone is interested in storing up treasures in heaven. When we sin, we divide ourselves from others and from God. If even our father, mother, or brother is asking us to work against God, then we are going to be divided from them to some extent. It is sin that divides us; we are meant to be united in Christ. When we divide ourselves from Christ by our sins, we will inevitably be divided from one another as well.
Jesus uses the example of close family members to drive home how serving God must be our top priority in life. We love our family above all others, and division within the family is one of the most painful things possible in this life. Yet, we must cling first and foremost to God, and peace with our brother is secondary to peace with God. The division between loved ones is not what Jesus wants, but it can be an unfortunate side effect of the choices we make.
This is not easy! This, I believe, is one of the most challenging teachings of our faith. We are very loyal to our families; are we just as loyal to our faith? When put to the question by our most intimate companions here on earth, are we honest with them about our heavenly goal? We hope and pray that they too are seeking heaven above all things, but when earthly goals come into conflict with our heavenly goal, what will we do? I pray that we may have the grace to face such challenges with great love, patience, and mutual understanding as well as the courage and strength to hold fast to Christ Jesus and His Church. May we work to foster loving, understanding relationships with our family and friends so that we may remain close to one another and to Christ and His Church.