“Cease doing evil; Learn to do good.” -Isaiah 1:16-17
If you are anything like me, you probably started shifting around in your seat uncomfortably when you heard today’s Gospel. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, tells his Apostles that he has not come to bring peace, but the sword. He has come to turn family members against one another and household against household. Can Jesus really mean what he is saying?
If we take a moment to look at this Gospel in a historical context, Jesus is certainly speaking truthfully. All of the Apostles but John were martyred and countless Christians after them bravely accepted martyrdom at the hands of the Roman Empire. There are countless saints from this early period who came from well-to-do Roman families that left their homes (sometimes even to the disgrace of their family) to follow the call of Jesus. In this sense, Jesus is speaking very truly about things that would happen in the few years following his passion, death, and resurrection.
Well, that is fine and dandy for the early Christians, but what is Jesus saying to us, as Christians today? Today’s readings remind us that the choice to embrace Jesus and his Church comes with struggles and difficulties. Often, the greatest of these difficulties can be really embracing our faith to its fullest. Jesus tells us that whoever loves even their families more than he is not worthy of him! Now, this is a bit of an exegetical stretch, but when I look at my own life in respect to this passage, I think about my friends and classmates (my academic family if you will). Sometimes there is a temptation to go along with what our friends are doing, even though we know it is something that God would not want us to do. Jesus is speaking about these moments to us. Will we go along with the crowd, or will we stand strong in our faith?
All of us have friends (even very close friends) who are not Catholic, or even Christian. Is Jesus telling us to cut these people out of our lives and ignore them? No! We are called to love everyone and to strive to be Christ to everyone, especially those who do not know him yet. Jesus is warning us, though, that it can be easy to become caught up in the world and forget about God. We see this very clearly in the first reading today. God tells the Israelites that he is tired of their sacrifices because the people have forgotten the reason behind the sacrifice. The people were simply going through the motions of prayer without actually praying.
The heart of today’s readings is to keep God always at the center of our lives and not crowd him out with concerns about all the things going on in the world that bother us. When God is the center, everything else will follow, including our relationships with our families and friends, and our prayer life will continue to grow. If we can keep our focus on Jesus each day, then we will surely not lose our Heavenly Reward.