There is a famous and troubling scripture passage in Luke 12 in which Jesus tells His followers that becoming part of all that His coming to earth is destined to accomplish means some real pain in relationships, especially with those whom we love most dearly. He speaks about it as though it were inevitable, and any serious, committed Christian knows from personal experience how true that is: “Jesus said to His disciples, ‘I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.'” (verses 49-53)
“Hey! What about the great message the angels brought to us on the day Jesus was born: ‘Peace on earth, good will to men!’ We sing that every Christmas. Is it a lie?” First, know that a more accurate rendering of the passage is, “….on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!” (Revised Standard Version) There is a real peace which Jesus brings into the lives of those who desire to do God’s will and yet, we are all people on a journey, sojourners as it were, while we are on earth. Jesus also told His disciples shortly before He was crucified and resurrected, “I have said (all these things) to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Each one of us is at a certain place in our life, different from the place where our loved ones are, even if we are on the right road together. My own peace with God can be severely tried, even temporarily destroyed, by a sudden illness, by some sin I trip into, or by rubbing shoulders on a daily basis with another person struggling along with feet tangled up in his or her own net. We are confronted with great trials going on in various parts of the world, and yet, as Jesus’ hard words reveal to us in Luke 12, He knows that the greatest tribulations many of his followers face are the day to day tensions and divisions with loved ones, people in our own families and close friends.
And it is interesting that, “From now on….” , that is, because of my coming into your lives, you are going to experience a kind of division unknown before. When Jesus entered history, because of who He is, all hell literally broke loose! Of course we are going to experience tribulation of a particularly difficult kind when we choose to follow Him, when others are perhaps, or quite definitely, not so sure about that, either now or in the way we’ve chosen or even for the long term.
But, one thing that is particularly consoling to those who pray for loved ones whose sufferings are caused by a refusal to follow Christ closely is this: “…how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!” He tells us. The full accomplishment in history of what Christ fully accomplished through His Cross and Resurrection is still ahead of us; meanwhile, He knows and feels our anguish. We can always be assured of this, every time we pray, with a quick arrow prayer ascending to heaven, or with buckets of tears and our body prostrate on the ground. He anguishes with us. Remember how, even though He knew He was about to give their dear brother Lazarus back to sisters Mary and Martha after death in a history-shaking miracle, Jesus first joined with them and wept. (See John 11) We can be assured that God understands deeply the sufferings of simply being human, the sufferings inevitable in our close love relationships….because He’s been there!
Thanks be to God, for always hearing our prayers with His heart–with and in Jesus Christ’s glorified and still very human heart!