All Saints, Cochrane

Almighty God, you have broken the tyranny of sin and sent into our hearts the Spirit of your Son. Give us grace to dedicate our freedom to your service, that all people may know the glorious liberty of the children of God; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three.

May the words of my lips, and the thoughts and meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Introduction

Choice is something that comes up again and again in movies, often creating iconic scenes. Indiana Jones is forced to choose from among several options to find the Holy Grail needed to save his dying father’s life, and luckily he chooses wisely. Darth Vader asks Luke Skywalker to choose between joining him, and ruling the galaxy as father and son, or being killed. Neo from The Matrix is asked to choose between a red pill or a blue pill to decide whether or not he wants to remain within the machine-controlled Matrix simulation. These choices are compelling and iconic because no matter how outlandish the scenario, they remain relatable to audience members.

Our lives are filled with choices that we make every day. Some may have minor impacts—choosing strawberry jam rather than orange marmalade with our toast—while others can have major impacts on our lives, and the lives of those around us. Choices are just a part of what it means to be human. It is the result of God having created each one of us with free will.

Free will is what allowed Adam and Eve to sin, it allowed the Blessed Virgin Mary to give her yes to God, and it has allowed every Christian to choose to follow Jesus Christ.

Choice in Scripture

The early Church saw a fundamental choice to be made, the way of life or the way of death.[1] This dates back to the teachings of Moses[2] and Jeremiah,[3] but is also apparent in the teachings of Jesus. Think of when Jesus speaks of the wide and narrow paths that lead to life and destruction. [4] Our Gospel reading today focuses on a related teaching from Jesus. In this seemingly challenging passage, Jesus speaks about consequences relating to the choice that is put before us.

“I came to bring fire to earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!”[5] This seems apocalyptic in the sense of destruction, and entirely counter to our images of Christ evoked by the Good Shepherd passages from S. John’s gospel.[6] The phrase jumps out at us, along with verse 51 where Jesus says he hasn’t come to bring peace, but division. This similarly challenges us and images of Christ as the Prince of Peace. When we read this passage through the lens of choice, we can see how Christ’s words are not contradictory, but rather an encouragement to us.

Jesus coming to bring fire is perhaps the hardest phrase to read initially, but setting aside any initial shock or confusion, it is also perhaps the easiest to understand. When thinking about other places in Scripture where fire is mentioned, one of the first things that might come to mind from the New Testament is Pentecost, where the Holy Spirit descends upon the Apostles like tongues of fire.[7] Even more clearly, as Jesus says in S. John’s gospel, he is giving the Holy Spirit, but he needed to ascend before the Holy Spirit could come.[8] This parallels the language Jesus is using saying that the fire he is bringing isn’t there yet. The interpretation of this passage as referring to the Holy Spirit dates back to the early Church[9] and has been understood that way ever since.

That context also helps to hint at the meaning of his baptism. As Jesus had already received the Baptism of John to start his public ministry,[10] he here refers to his immanent death on the cross.[11] At this point in S. Luke’s gospel he had already predicted his death twice,[12] and his death is also referred to as baptism by Jesus in S. Mark’s gospel.[13]

The coming of Holy Spirit and Christ’s death and resurrection present everyone with a choice. A choice for salvation which will disrupt their very lives. Not everyone will choose it, and so as Christ says, “one household will be divided, three against two and two against three.”[14] This division makes sense. As S. Paul reminded the Corinthians: “the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”[15]

In some ways, choosing Christ can be difficult. For some it can be costly.

Jesus concludes this passage by chastising the people for being able to interpret natural signs of the times, such as the weather, and adjusting their lives for it, while failing to see the immanence of the Kingdom of God and divine judgement, and so acting accordingly.[16]

Choice Today

The common thread throughout the passage remains the matter of choice: the way of life or the way of death. Will we choose Christ and live our lives according to his will or not?

Those choices will have consequences for us in terms of how we live our lives, our relationships with those around us, and more fundamentally our relationship with God himself. This points us towards final judgement, but it also has an important reminder for each of us in our lives today.

This reminder is especially important when we think of inviting others to come to know Christ with us. First, the big reminder is that each person has a choice, and their response is in their own hands. We may speak some words, and God’s grace will be at work in their lives drawing them to him, but ultimately every individual has a choice to make, and their choices are their own responsibility. Second, Jesus expected to be rejected. By speaking of division, he acknowledges those who will not choose him. Just because we offer an invitation and it is not accepted does not mean we have failed that person or we have failed Christ.

Knowing Christ is a joyful thing, and it is a relationship we are called to share with others. Just because the possibility exists that someone will not choose Christ doesn’t mean we shouldn’t invite them, nor does it suggest we shouldn’t pray for them to come to know Christ as well.

Conclusion

Jesus came not to bring peace, but rather division.[17] Misunderstood, this can be seen as an out of place passage that contradicts our image of Christ. Yet properly understood, we should be thankful for his disruption. Christ comes to disrupt our normal lives and remind us of the choice we are given, and the choice we must make.

In the time of Christ, many people had made the wrong choice, and walked away from God. God did not abandon them. His love was such that he sent his Holy Spirit, and his only begotten son to be baptised with the baptism of death, that we might be saved. To disrupt our lives and give us the opportunity to make our choice again, to choose the way that leads not just to life, but to life everlasting.

Those are the signs of our time. They are the signs we are called to share with others, inviting them to make the choice we have: to know and follow Christ.

[1] Didache, 1.1

[2] Deuteronomy 30:15, 19;

[3] Jeremiah 21:8

[4] S. Matthew 7:13, 14

[5] S. Luke 12:49

[6] S. John 10:1-18

[7] Acts 2:3

[8] S. John 14:26; 16:7

[9] S. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, 17.8

[10] S. Luke 3:21-22

[11] Fr. Robert Capon, Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus, combined edition, (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), 246

[12] S. Luke 9:21, 22, 44

[13] S. Mark 10:38

[14] S. Luke 12:53

[15] I Cor. 1:18

[16] Fr. Capon, Kingdom, Grace, Judgment, 247

[17] S. Luke 12:51

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