Is Jesus a cause of division? To hear these words with our 21st Century ears and our Western culture easily causes us to think that we have to stand against everyone and defend our selves. But Jesus preached love and forgiveness not war and division. So what does he mean here? I think we need to listen to these words using a Middle Eastern worldview, which is one of family and community first. The individual is much less important.
Let’s start with verse 40, Jesus says. “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” There is an old Middle Eastern proverb: “the messenger is the same as the sender of the message.” The Rabbis used it and everyone knew it well. Jesus was saying that if you receive him you receive God who sent him.
Jesus names four other types of people who act as his emissaries and who we are to receive as we would receive Jesus…prophets, righteous ones, little ones and disciples. A prophet is a spokesman of God and we are all prophets by virtue of our baptism. A righteous person is not someone who is self righteous, but rather the one who is just and honest and true, exteriorly as well as interiorly. In Hebrew a righteous one is “one who makes things right.” Little ones of course are those who are vulnerable. That could be the poor, orphans and widows, it could also be anyone who does not have the same opportunities as you and I have. Jesus speaks of these people in Mt 25:40. Finally, Jesus names disciples as emissaries of him and if one receives them just as they receive a prophet or a righteous person they will be rewarded.
So let’s go back now to verse 34 where Jesus says he has come to bring the sword and not peace, to divide households and set relatives against each other. If you live as a spokesperson for God; if you are intent on setting things right, you will cause dissension in your homes and communities because you will not make people feel good. Dorothy Day summed it up nicely, “We are called to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” We cannot just cover over our misdeeds with ritual sacrifice and penance. We need to change our attitudes. We need to “learn to do good. Make justice our aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow” (Is 1:17).
Giving a cup of water to one who is thirsty seems a simple thing to do. However, we must receive that person for who they are and where they are before we will give them the drink. If we judge them as unworthy or unimportant then we set our self up above the one who sends them.
If we look at the lives of the greatest of saints, we would see that what they did was what we are all supposed to do. We like to make them the exception though; because we do not really want to be like them. Yet, Christ has given us his unlimited bank account:
So “whoever loses his life [of comfort and social acceptance] for my sake will find it [in my reward for your service]” (vs 39). It is not about me or my family and friends. It is about everyone else. We are to be receptive to everyone else’s needs and then God will provide all that we need and more than we want or can imagine. That is quite a promise! Do you believe it?
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