As an infant of forty days, Jesus was presented in the Jerusalem Temple, where the elderly prophet Simeon said to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, that her child was “set for the fall and rising of many in Israel,’ and as a sign that would be spoken against,” (see Luke 2:34), “that thoughts of many hearts might be laid bare” (Luke 2:35).
These sentiments of Simeon’s echo what we hear Jesus say in today’s Gospel passage: “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division,” (Luke 12:51) which might even include division among members of the same family.
As Jesus himself was, so his faithful followers, will need to become stumbling blocks and signs of contradiction. How so? By the fact that God’s ways are not the ways of the world, hence those who adhere to Christ will stand in stark contrast to the prevailing tendencies of the times. As such, Jesus’ followers will be a definite “stumbling block” and “contradiction” to what is understood as “normal” and “acceptable” trends in our times and culture.
Not abandoning the path of the Lord, the disciples of the Master will inevitably participate in the condition of the Master, who said, “I have come to set the earth on fire” (Luke12:49). This is nothing less an opening of the epoch of God’s judgment and peoples longing for a Baptism of fire, in the Holy Spirit, which inevitably includes sharing in the passion and death of the Lord, who underwent such for the salvation of the world.
Saint Paul tells us that “Christ is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14). However, the peace that Christ brings us is not a false peace, nor the sort of peace which the world offers. To receive the peace that Christ brings, there needs to be a rejection of evil and serious discernment between what is light and what is darkness; that is, what is of God and what is not.
Too easily we can be afraid in the face of what it takes to be a faithful follower of Jesus today. When we are inclined to abandon the path or “throw in the towel,” as they say, and compromise our values and Baptismal commitment, the remembrance of Christ’s example and his final victory over sin and death should greatly encourage us. What we cannot do alone, Christ helps us to do nonetheless. Whatever inconveniences we may encounter along the way can in fact be a means of meeting God in daily life, that taking up of our cross and following in the footsteps of the Master.
Another way to express all this is to say that the follower of Christ cannot be passive or neutral with respect to the mission of announcing the Good News in the world today. The Christian vocation to be faithful in following Christ is for all of us, to be taken up with joy, not constraint, freely, and not under coercion. We are all servants of the Kingdom of God and of God’s Holy Word. If Jesus came to serve and not to be served, all the more reason we should do likewise.
The world today, helped by the Holy Spirit, can be transformed by the spiritual values at our disposal, some of which include: love and prayer, responsibility for one another, pursuing truth, and having a commitment to seeing everyone as a son or daughter of God who are deserving of redemption in the Blood of Christ, just as we desire for ourselves as well.
Today we can ask ourselves if in our personal lives and Christian communities we have truly experienced the presence of Christ among us. If the reply is positive, “Yes, we have met Christ,” this should have an impact on those whom we meet each day.
If we live according to the “new condition” as being beloved sons and daughters of God, we can have a real and lasting effect in the world in which we live, even a world so often diametrically opposed to the Gospel message.
“Go, and announce the Kingdom of God,” Jesus told his first followers. Christ is still speaking the same message today, to us and to all people. Believers who are mature in the faith do not draw back from what Christ is calling us to be, namely, “Cristoforos”, “Christophers”, that is, “bearers of Christ” to all people.
The testimony of true believers, and may we be counted among them, challenges the ways of the world, that is, whatever is opposed to God. This is what it means to be an “apostle”, literally, a missionary, “one who is sent,” equipped with the help of the grace of God. Such grace works more readily in docile souls, who are under the dynamic action of the Holy Spirit, who consoles and comforts those who may be discouraged. The task ahead may seem unattractive, too arduous or daunting, but it should be taken on and up with confidence. Why? Because we believe that “God is with us,” to give us hope in our striving to be faithful to our fundamental choice of being “for Christ.” May we ever be so, to our final breath.