This week we ponder Jesus’ desire that we be consumed with the same intense love that burns in his own heart. This will happen if we open our hearts to him and let him change us from within. Allowing the Lord into our hearts, however, seems like a death experience to our selfish nature, which prefers that we sit on the throne, ruling our domain. But Jesus comes to give us a new way to live, not the way of selfishness, but of love: love of God and love of neighbor. He wants to reign in our hearts, not as a tyrant, but as the merciful King who comes to save us.
Jesus has not come to promote division, but it is the inevitable result of his mission. He has come to free us from sin, a process which requires division from sin. This is what Jesus announces in the Gospel: “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”
It is important for us to reflect on this: living an authentic Christian life will inevitably bring division into our lives. Whenever we take a stand for the truth, we risk opposition. This was the experience of the prophet Jeremiah. He was sent by God to proclaim his word to a rebellious people. They refused to listen to him and even appealed to the king with their complaint. “Jeremiah ought to be put to death; he is demoralizing the soldiers who are left in this city, and all the people, by speaking such things to them; he is not interested in the welfare of our people, but in their ruin.” The prophet’s words of truth are so abhorrent to the people that they attempt to kill him by throwing him into a well. Jeremiah has tried to speak God’s truth to them, but they are already divided from God even before he speaks. Hearing the Word of God provokes their anger because their hearts are closed. Out of love for them, Jeremiah chooses to speak to the people anyway, so that they will not be deprived of God’s truth.
Many of us would like to preserve peace at any price; but peace at any price is not real peace. Division is not the problem; sin is the problem. We cannot make peace with sin. If we compromise with sin, we diminish ourselves and we also withhold the truth from others.
The family division that Jesus describes also applies to our inner life. If we are honest, we know ways in which we are interiorly divided. We have all had the experience of wanting to do what is good but finding ourselves doing just the opposite (cf. Rm 7:19). Jesus’ call to follow him requires that we step away from comforts and predictable routines and be willing to leave everything behind, if necessary. Following Jesus is an all or nothing adventure. He asks us to let go of any attachments that hinder our relationship with him. In other words, he is calling us to total freedom, but we cannot be free if we choose our own slavery.
Pope Francis addresses the division that comes with being a Christian in this week’s Spiritual Reflection: “In this sense he came to ‘divide,’ to cause ‘uneasiness’ — albeit in a healthy way — in his disciples’ lives, breaking the facile illusions of those who think they can combine Christian life with worldliness, Christian life with compromises of all kinds, piety with a hostile attitude to others. Combining, some think, true religiosity with superstitious practices…. One must not live in a hypocritical way but be willing to pay the price for choices that are consistent — this is the attitude that each of us should seek in life: [being] consistent — paying the price for being consistent with the Gospel.”
Today’s selection from the Letter to the Hebrews helps us form the right inner disposition for being consistent with the Gospel. The key is to put our focus on Jesus, not on ourselves or on the divisions we may experience. “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.” Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus Christ! If we are united with him, we have all we need to deal with the divisions in our life, because he is the Way, the Truth and the Life. The question is, will we follow him? Will we let him set our hearts on fire with his love?
What are the divisions in my life caused by my living an authentic Christian life? What hinders me from following Jesus in an all or nothing adventure? Why am I not consistent in following the Christian life and all that it demands?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 18, no. 6. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.