Last week’s Gospel spoke of the Master who returned to his household at an unexpected time and will need to reward or punish his servants. His measure is simple, “Are they doing their regular tasks justly and carefully?” This story is universally relevant to all followers of Jesus. The good disciple is one who builds up Jesus’ household, the church, most dutifully. So important is this that he will serve them – hopefully us – a wonderful meal. For the Jews this would have been especially significant as they believed the time of the Messiah was best seen as a great feast.
This is a beautiful and peaceful scene and reflects an important theme in Luke. Luke often speaks of peace. The angels cried out to the shepherds at his birth:
Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Lk 2:14).
Even seeing Jesus could bring peace. When he is brought to the temple the aged priest Simeon says:
Now, Master, you may let your servant go
in peace, according to your word,
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation, (Lk 2:29–30
Yet this same Simeon will tell Mary
Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted
35 (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” Lk 2:34–35).
This is a very Semitic way of saying that everyone, including Mary, will be tested by Jesus. No one can sit on the side, everyone must choose for or against.
Jesus is making this very clear today that this will be both cosmic and personal. When John the Baptist spoke first about Jesus he said:
I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire. Lk 3:16).
This came to pass at Pentecost:
3 Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them.
4 And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim. (Ac 2:3–4).
This was a mighty act of God that sent the Apostles into the world, even reaching the capital of Rome itself. Luke chronicles this in the Acts of the Apostles but it is the Gospel of Luke that he emphasizes the effect on the family.
Peter will say to Jesus:
“We have given up our possessions and followed you.”
To which Jesus will respond:
“Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God who will not receive (back) an overabundant return in this present age and eternal life in the age to come.” (Lk 18:28–30)
This is said matter of factly. It would certainly not be uncommon. The church has by this time been around long enough that the effects on family life will have been known. Luke is very aware and very practical. Look how he dissects the relationship.
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.” Lk 12:53).
He emphases the particular difficulties conversion will raise with the women who will manage the home.
We need always to remember that Christianity was an urban religion. Indeed, the word pagan’s first meaning is “rural person”. Christianity arose in the cities. Ancient cities were run differently than ours. First, they were compact. One of the first things to strike us about older sections of European cities are how narrow the streets are. People lived on top of each other. Privacy, in our sense, would have been incomprehensible for most people. You couldn’t hide your religious practice even if you wished to. This would have been true of every city in which Luke’s gospel was read. Also, at that time, they tended to live together in religious and/or trade groups. We see this today with the four quarters of Jerusalem: Jewish, Armenian, Christian and Muslim. Even in cosmopolitan Rome people were clustered together. The Jews for instance were in the first century in what is now called Trastevere. This was not only to have access to common foods and speak the native language but to provide discipline and order. The Romans would use the leaders of the people to maintain the peace. If they did not, official intervention was highly unpleasant. We see this maneuvering with the high priests, Herod and Pontius Pilate at the trial and execution of Jesus.
Christianity was considered a Jewish sect and would be treated accordingly. Particularly in the first generation, most Christians were born Jews and expected to live like one. This did not make family life easy. Just think of dinner.
Even later when there were many non-Jews there would be concerns about diet and habits. Also, we can never forget that it was illegal to be a Christian and sometimes profitable to turn in a Christian neighbor or family member. There is certainly enough for division here.
This should not be surprising. Jesus is an event and one we cannot ignore. If we have met him, not an image of him or an idea of him but HIM, we cannot emerge unscathed. This is a true now and it was at the beginning.
Sometimes but rarely it is seen when an adult desires to become Catholic; more often the division can be found if one member of a married couple begins to take his or her religion seriously. The other partner may feel excluded or perhaps have major issues with the newly evangelized beliefs and practices. As the presidential campaign heats up and we at St. Charles will focus on the demands of Catholic social teaching we may find another source of religious tension within our households. Also, we must never forget the importance of social media: in many ways we have returned to the cramped alleys of the early Roman Empire.
Yet this is not all negative. Remember that Jesus said we were to “Receive back an overabundant return in this present age and eternal life in the age to come.” (Lk 18:28–30). Matthew puts this more bluntly:
And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life (Mt 19:29).
We are each other’s reward for discipleship.
This is true everywhere and we must ask how it affects us. We have many parishioners who raised their families and now find that they have moved all over the country and cannot see them as much as they would like. In turn we have many young people who have moved here if only for a time and have no natural family in the community.
There are also those who work such long hours that making friends is very hard and although it is difficult for me to understand, social media seems to isolate young people especially teenage girls from strong relationships.
We have recently taken up our mission collection as well as generously donated to the efforts of Catholic Charities on our nation’s borders. These are both wonderful things, but if we do not serve the people we see in front of us, we have not seen Jesus here and we will not be able to share him anywhere.
The prophet Micah lived in the 8th century before Jesus. He had the penetrating insight that the worship of idols did not require treating others justly, but the worship of the God of Israel did. We should not be surprised if people were and still are attracted to the easier devotion to creatures of their own manufacture. This corrupted the city and nation, but also infected personal relationships.
Put no trust in a friend,
have no confidence in a companion;
Against her who lies in your bosom
guard the portals of your mouth.
6 For the son dishonors his father,
the daughter rises up against her mother,
The daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law,
and a man’s enemies are those of his household. Mic 7:5–6
However faithless the people, God is always faithful and will maintain his covenant. Micah joins the other great prophets of his time in assuring the people that if they returned to God he would be as merciful to them as to their fathers.
14 Shepherd your people with your staff,
the flock of your inheritance,
That dwells apart in a woodland,
in the midst of Carmel.
Let them feed in Bashan and Gilead,
as in the days of old;
15 As in the days when you came from the land of Egypt,
show us wonderful signs. Mic 7:12–15
Jesus reveals the duplicity of the world and fragility of human relations, but also shares the insight of the prophets that their God is the Lord of History. Past performance is a guarantee of future fidelity.