“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 will be divided… a father… against his son and a son against his father…“ (Lk: 12:51-53)
Peace is the tranquility of order. A well-ordered state is peaceful and so is a well-ordered soul. A state whose civil laws are unenforced or unjust and whose citizens do not obey the natural law is not well-ordered. A soul which is in turmoil intellectually, morally, and emotionally is not well-ordered. Further, a state whose citizens are divided against each other and a soul divided in conscience will have little peace.
So why would Jesus who once said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you…” (Jn 14:27) on another occasion say that He has come to the earth to sow division? When Jesus speaks about giving his disciples peace, He of course means the peace of the Holy Spirit (Jn 14:26). Hence as He states, “…not as the world gives do I give [peace] to you…”
First of all Jesus did not come into the world to become a king over nations. Worldly kings bring about peace through war and stately power, but Jesus is a heavenly king not an earthly king (Jn 18:36). Second, when Jesus speaks of division He is not focused on physical or territorial division as are the nations which sometimes justly and other times unjustly make claim to the lands. Lastly, what Jesus means is that He has come to stake out a “”spiritual division” amongst men even in the most united of all societal bonds – the family – so that each person, be they father, mother, son, or daughter, will either choose for God or against God.
In order to drive home this point on this 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time we place on our bulletin cover a detail of an oil-on-canvas by James Tissot. This work is titled The Departure (1880) and it is part of a series called The Prodigal Son in Modern Life. Tissot’s purpose was to take the various parts of the parable of Jesus and to present these as contemporary, visual reflections to the late 19th century observer.
Here we see the son intent on departing, looking down upon his father in unmerited superiority. He has fully withdrawn his left hand from his father’s grasp while his right hand clutches the purse of money he has just received from his father. The father looks at the son imploring him to reconsider as he makes one last effort to touch his son before he departs. Not shown in this image is the older son who looks out a window as if to foretell his brother’s future, as he appears to care little about it. Also unseen here is a sister similarly apathetic sitting close to her tray of fine china and precious silver. Tissot paints a family already divided over an immanent inheritance.
This painting represents for us the division that Jesus desires: one inspired by the Holy Spirit which forces a deliberate choice – to stay with the Father or to leave him. Thankfully though, we have a Father who takes us back when we repent of our sinful decisions.
-Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services