Politicians frequently claim to be uniters, not dividers. If you wanted proof, therefore, that Jesus was not a politician, look no further than today’s Gospel: “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”
Political promises of unity, of course, come cheaply; sometimes they simply mean, “If you disagree with me, I’ll accuse you of being a divider.” In today’s Gospel reading, however, Jesus makes a move never recommended by any political consultant: he preemptively accuses himself of bringing division. Other than the desire to put centuries of future homilists in a very awkward position, why would Jesus do this?
Today’s readings are not for the conflict-averse. Today’s world is not for the conflict-averse, either. Within our communities and families, we experience conflict over vaccines and politics. Irresponsible political and media actors seem intent on increasing racial conflict. In the Ukraine, armed conflict threatens. But, as even the Bible demonstrates, the world has never been a conflict-free zone.
Conflict is a part of the human reality Jesus entered into. Conflict is not always bad, either. Political conflicts between big states and small states produced the checks-and-balances of the American Constitution. Theological conflict has led to doctrines that give us deeper insight into the nature of God. We wouldn’t have a Creed if there hadn’t first been disagreements about the Trinity. The fact that sometimes we disagree doesn’t make us bad Christians.