Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Exchanging Our Cities for the City of God
49“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” 54He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. 55And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. 56You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?
"...peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinner reconciled." Hark the Herald Angels Sing
I know it's August, but man o' man does the text of Hark the Herald Angels Sing come roaring back into my brain with texts like these! I'm confronted with the little baby in the manger on one hand with the Son of Man on clouds raining fire and death on the world! Well, which one is it? Is it God and sinner reconciled or is it Wagnerian death from above; chaos and imminent doom?
Well, let's take the text piece by piece shall we? And just to calm it all down a bit, let's take a look at the last verses first. "You know how to interpret the earth and the sky, but why don't you know how to interpret the present time?" The human inability to recognize situations for what they are as they are right in front of them is legendary. Think about the story of Marie Antoinette who in the face of colossal human suffering and starvation told her servants to let the starving people eat cake. Or what about Nero who as the Eternal City burned pulled out the old fiddle and played along to accompany the dancing flames? When confronted with ultimate realities like these, human beings tend to lose their bearings. We can't see the signs even when they're bright and burning.
And maybe that's what Jesus' lament here is all about. He hasn't come to bring peace, not because he doesn't want to bring peace, but because he understands that in the face of an ultimate reality some people will reject it no matter how patently obvious the situation becomes. And maybe this is the source of his great lament. When Jesus arrives some people hear angels and understand that the division of God and sinner is reconciled, on the other hand, some see his arrival as a portend of doom that must be rejected and even brought to an end.
Therein lies a major theme of all four gospels; the message and mission of Jesus are a new ultimate reality which some will embrace and others will reject. Jesus' message of the Kingdom of God, the true business of God, entering the world and being available to the whole of the creation, is a disruptive thing. When we've built our whole lives on certain 'truths' about the world and our fellow human beings is it any wonder that the people of Jesus' time couldn't see the signs for what they were? Is it any wonder that they were willing to reject him if the questions that he was asking put in jeopardy the worlds and lives they had created for themselves?
We've all built worlds for ourselves; their walls are made of values and the gates are made of rules and exceptions. And we build and expand these cities we've built for ourselves. Within them we raise children, maintain friendships, establish policies and procedures, and live our lives. We've invested time in building these cities, these worlds of ours. They are built on foundations of isolating self-interest and occasional altruism. Within the walls of these cities the world makes sense, chaos is cast out and relative tranquility reigns. But what happens when some great and grand reorganizing event strikes the walls of our city. Is it seen as an invading army or is it seen as the bright hope for our self-made city. No wonder Jesus believed his message and mission would divide, "...father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."
What was that message then, and what was that mission? Nothing less that God with us...Emmanuel. That like the great hymn of Philippians 2 tells us, Jesus humbled himself, became one of us, and suffered the indignation of crucifixion, and enjoyed the resurrection of God. All of this because God desired to be the builder of our cities; the breaker of our walls. God desires now to break down the dividing walls of fear and hatred, and we can find in the death and resurrection of Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. In him a new model and more than that, a new ruler for the city that is the human heart. A ruler who desires our lives to grow more and more into his likeness everyday. A ruler who rules by selfless sacrifice of himself, and asks us to experience the new city of God.
Is it any wonder that this message and mission divide? Is it any wonder that the signs of its coming would go unheeded falling on deaf ears? Will we be like those first hearers? Will we fail to see the signs of God's coming or even worse fortify the walls and gates of our hearts from it?