There is the story of the two fellows who lived and breathed baseball. They were professional players with the Atlanta Braves and you would think that playing for a living would be enough. But not so – these guys breathed, ate, and slept baseball. More than teammates, they were very close friends. So, they talked with each other about what mattered most in their lives. One of their big concerns was whether there would be baseball in heaven. They loved baseball so much that they were not sure at all they wanted to spend eternity in heaven unless they could play baseball.
They had an agreement that the first one who died would somehow get a message back to earth, letting the other know whether baseball was in heaven or not. Well, it happened. John died, and Jim grieved. He grieved for days – deeply saddened over his friend John’s death. About two weeks went by, and then it happened. Jim was awakened in the middle of the night by the calling of his name, “Jim, Jim, Jim, wake up! This is John.” “John, where are you?”
“I’m in heaven – and I have some good news and bad news. It’s exciting, Jim. We do have baseball in heaven. It’s great. We play every day and there are marvelous teams, and tough, exciting competition.”
“That’s great news,” said Jim. “But what’s the bad news?”
“Well,” said John, “You are scheduled to pitch next Tuesday.”
In the gospel reading today we have a great example of good news and bad news. Simeon sees Joseph, Mary, and Jesus in the temple and guided by the Holy Spirit goes over to them and takes Jesus into his arms and praises God and says, “”Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” This part is really good news isn’t it? Jesus is God’s salvation for humanity. He will be a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel. Wow! Jesus will show even the Gentiles, the non-Jews of the world what God is really like and this will bring glory to the nation of Israel. This is really good news.
And when they hear this, Joseph and Mary are amazed. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed– and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” This part is not such good news is it? This is the bad part. He will be a miraculous sign that will be disputed. Some people will say he is from God and some will be angrily opposed to this notion. Jesus will reveal the inner thoughts of people about God and who He is. People will have to make a choice about Jesus. And depending upon the choice people will be raised to God or they will fall from Him.
And so it happened. Jesus after he began his public ministry became a fellow who some people acclaimed as the Messiah, as a prophet from God. And then there were some who decided that Jesus was a fraud, a liar, one who was a deceiver of the people. And as it turned out, the ones who hated Jesus were very powerful and in the end got Him executed. We know the story, right? So what does it have to do with us today?
The point is that Jesus is still a divisive person. The point is that some people acclaim him as the Messiah, the one who came from God who will and has helped humanity. And there are those who are bitterly opposed to Jesus and to those who follow him. What makes Jesus so divisive? After all, he seems like just a good fellow. He loves people; he loves children. He healed the sick and cared for those people who were on the fringe of society. He stood up for those people who were oppressed and helped them. So why did and do people hate Jesus? They hate Him not because of what he did. They hate him for what He said. Jesus said, “I am the way, the Truth, and the Life and no one comes to the Father; that is no one comes to God, except through me.” Jesus says that if someone wants to get to God the only way is through Jesus. That flies in the face of every other religion on earth. Jesus says quite bluntly that they are all wrong, every one of them. Every one of them is a dead end. Well, either Jesus is extremely arrogant, or He was telling the truth.
This isn’t the only thing Jesus said that people didn’t like. He made demands upon people that were not only unpopular they were extremely demanding. He told people that in order to follow him they would have to make him the most important part of their lives. He would need to become more important than their wife or husband. He would need to be more important than their children or their parents. He would need to take precedence over their jobs and loyalty to their country. He told people that in order to follow him they needed to be ready to die for his sake. Jesus’ demands are either outrageous or they are actually reasonable. You see, if in fact, Jesus is the only way to God, then this is more important than anything else or anyone else in the world.
And then on top of all these other things he said, He also claimed to be able to forgive sins; he claimed that he was the Lord of the Sabbath; he claimed that those who would believe in Him, he would grant eternal life. He claimed that he was in fact, God in human form. This made people really angry. They could not believe that God would come in human form. They could not believe that God would live among people as an itinerant teacher.
And then he was crucified; he died the most ignoble and painful death possible but rose from the dead on the third day. His death was considered an embarrassment by some and his resurrection a hoax by others.
So this is in brief why Jesus was divisive and is still divisive to this day. We can either believe him or not. But the stakes are high. Jesus claims to be the only way to God. He says that we are unable to know who God is unless we know and follow Jesus. So what about what the other religions say about who God is? Jesus tells us that they are all, every one of them, are wrong, they are worshiping a God who is not real. His demands are extreme; but if what he says is true then we are fools if we do not give our entire lives to following Him.
Old Simeon told Joseph and Mary that their son Jesus was going to cause people to have to make a choice and that he was going to be divisive. And it was and still is true. Jesus is divisive and we all have to make our choices. And if Jesus is telling the truth, eternity rides upon how we choose. And not even just eternity—true life rides on our decision as well. May God help us each to choose rightly and find Jesus to be the way the truth and the life. Amen