Reader’s Digest ran a story some time ago about two little boys who were arguing loudly and passionately. Their father called them and when they were in front of him holding their favorite toys he asked them what the problem was. At that point one asked his father where poo came from. The father was taken back by the question but decided to give his sons the facts straight up. “Well, food passes from the mouth down the esophagus. It enters the stomach, where digestive enzymes induce a probiotic reaction in the alimentary canal. This extracts the protein after this, what is left enters the colon as waste product. Water is absorbed whereupon it then enters the rectum finally to emerge as poo.” His sons’ eyes had grown large during the explanation and they were silent. And then the other one said, “Wow! So where does Tigger come from?”
Divisions and arguments begin in our families and we experience at young ages. Division has been a problem for humanity ever since the Fall. Right now in our society we struggle with division. Conservatives and liberals are passionate about what they think and believe. Each is convinced his or her views are correct and those people who think differently are either brain dead, morally deficient or both! The divisions are definite and palpable.
In our Gospel reading today Jesus said, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”
This is Jesus who is talking, right? What is going on? Do you remember that at the beginning of the Gospel of Luke, Luke tells us the story of the birth of Jesus? It was St. Luke who wrote of the message that the angels said to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men.” So what happened? Why is Jesus talking about division and not peace?
When we look at Jesus we see first that on the one hand He does bring peace because it is through him we have peace with God. Through him and his willing death for us, we see God’s great love for humanity. We are reconciled to God through Jesus! This is the peace to which the angels were referring on the night of the birth of Jesus. So how does he bring division?
Let me explain by referencing an article I read several years ago. It was titled ‘Religious people are Less Intelligent than Atheists, Study Finds.’ When I first saw it I thought, now that’s interesting! How would they came up with that conclusion considering men like Einstein, Newton, Faraday, and many other famous and extremely intelligent men were religious and certainly not atheists? In fact Einstein once said, “I want to know how God created this world. I want to know His thoughts. Einstein would not necessarily classify himself as a Christian per se, but he would certainly classify himself as a religious. So the article title made me curious. In short the article said there had been a study that followed a group of people from childhood to adulthood. This group as children been classified as gifted, that is, they had IQs of 135 or more. At the end of the study there were fewer religious people than non-religious people in this group. We were not told whether these children came from Christian or even religious homes and actually we are not told any of the parameters except that the people who had been studied had IQs of at least 135. But in writing up conclusions the researchers come up with the following suppositions. First that people with IQs of 135 or above tend to get higher educations and people with a higher education tend to get better paying jobs, and people with better paying jobs apparently do not feel the need for religion like those people who are less fortunate economically. It was the theory of the researchers that people who are religious are that way because they need the crutch of a life hereafter. Religious people need the crutch of an invisible deity who loves them in order to feel good about themselves. Religious people need the direction of this deity to give them moral guidance. But really intelligent people according to the article don’t need a god to love them, they don’t think about a life hereafter, and they not need nor want a god telling them how they ought to behave.
The thing that came to mind after reading the article was that the researchers missed the point. You see it doesn’t really matter whether I am able to live my life as an atheist and get along OK. It doesn’t matter if I need Christianity or some religion or not. You see the point is not what people may or may not need. What matters is, “Is it true?” I can need for my savings account to have a million dollars. But my need does not change the facts does it? So in the same way whether or not a person feels like being religious or feels like being irreligious is actually irrelevant. The point is, is religion, or in in particular, is Christianity true? Is it true or is it simply wishful thinking? Christianity is based solely and solidly upon the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. If Jesus was not raised from the dead, then Christianity is as false and empty as Grimm’s Fairy stories. And if we believed in fairy stories we would be indeed less intelligent than atheists. But if, if as all the historical evidence indicates that Jesus was raised from the dead, then Christianity is true and valid. It doesn’t matter whether one likes it or not. It doesn’t matter if one feels a need for God or not. Jesus was raised from the dead. You can do the research yourself or you can read the research of others. In fact, there is more historical proof about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus than there is about the life and death of Socrates the Greek philosopher. Our faith is not based upon wishful thinking. It is not based upon nice bedtime tales made up by someone’s grandfather. Our faith is not illogical. It is based on the resurrection. Further, details about the life and death and resurrection of Jesus were foretold by God’s prophets hundreds of years before he was even born. Therefore we need to understand that Christianity is not simply a nice code of ethics. Christianity is not simply a time honored way of life. No, we are Christians because it is true.
This brings us back to what Jesus said. He said he was going to bring division and he has. But this division is not over conservative or liberal values. The division he brings is the controversy of his life. He claimed through his words, his deeds, his life, his death, his resurrection that he was God in the flesh. He throws this into the face of the world. Now what do we do with this? That is the question. That is the point of division that he brings. This is our point of unity with each other as much as it is a point of division with those who are not Christians.
So we shouldn’t be surprised when our society doesn’t go along with Christian values. We should not be surprised when our society begins to take offense that we claim there is only one way to God. This is the division Jesus causes.
Peace and division, Jesus does indeed bring both. But for us it is worth it because Christianity is true and because we have peace with God. Amen