Twentieth Sunday of the Year Later in this Mass, we will remember what Jesus told his disciples, "Peace I leave you, my peace I give to you," and we will then exchange a greeting of peace. But in today’s gospel reading, Jesus says "I have come not to establish peace on the earth; I have come for division." Can he have it both ways? What are we to make of this? "Peace" means different things to different people and in different times. To some, peace means that everything is quiet, there are no disturbances; law and order prevail. These may be signs of real peace, but maybe not. Underneath the surface tranquility, there may be injustice, racism, sexism, ageism, economic exploitation, religious discrimination and many other kinds of oppression. There may be laws passed to perpetuate these kinds of oppression, and people can get in trouble for protesting or acting against them. That’s not real peace; that’s violence disguised as respectability. The command to love our neighbor obliges us to protest against mistreatment and to struggle for justice. That can create division. It can even get people thrown into jail. When Doctor King and others fought for racial justice, they were called "outside agitators." They followed the example of Jesus and tried to "light a fire on the earth." Thank God, they succeeded! Today our country is not at peace. Yes, we are threatened by terrorists, but they are not the only enemy. The terrorists do not divide us; we are united in opposing them. But peace is also threatened from within. We cannot say that as a nation we are truly at peace, as long as millions go without health insurance. As long as minorities are treated differently than others by law enforcement. As long as women are paid less than men for the same kind of work. As long as special interests are allowed to destroy our environment. As long as gentrified neighborhoods leave whole families out on the street. As long as prosecutors put innocent defendants on death row. As long as unborn children are deprived of their right to life. When we Catholics and other Christians and other people of good will protest against these violations of human dignity, we are called divisive. Many of our fellow citizens aspire to a false kind of peace; to them we seem like the prophet Jeremiah, disturbers of their complacency. We sin against what seems to be a highly regarded virtue among Americans--not to cause anyone pain, or to feel another’s pain. Since in this country they are not allowed to silence us, they treat us like outsiders or just ignore us. We shouldn’t be surprised; prophets have always been treated that way. James DiGiacomo, S.J.
"I have come to set the earth on fire."