Msgr. Charles Pope is currently a dean and pastor in the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, where he has served on the Priest Council, the College of Consultors, and the Priest Personnel Board. Along with publishing a daily blog at the Archdiocese of Washington website, he has written in pastoral journals, conducted numerous retreats for priests and lay faithful, and has also conducted weekly Bible studies in the U.S. Congress and the White House. He was named a Monsignor in 2005.
There is a false, unbiblical notion of Jesus that emphasizes and isolates some of his teachings and traits, while excluding others. Hence there are many who reduce Jesus’ moral teaching to a vague notion that we should be nice and try to get along. This not only simplifies Jesus — it trivializes him.
Jesus, in describing his own ministry and why he was hated so irrationally that even Pontius Pilate had to marvel, said to Pilate: The reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me (Jn 18:37). Pilate scoffed, of course, and like a 21st century secular or libertine, said, “Truth! What is that?”
But there is something funny about the truth. The opposite of the truth is not just less meaningful, or just another opinion. The opposite of true, is false. Truth has a way of dividing. It will not abide competitors. That Jesus is Lord, is true. Anything different from this is not just less meaningful or someone else’s view — it is false.
Jesus says, “I am the truth” (Jn 14:6). As such he cannot be reduced to a harmless hippie going about speaking of love and inclusion. Did he speak of these things? Surely. But he also summoned us to a choice for him or against him. To choose for him was to be saved; to choose against him was to be condemned. The same Jesus who said, “Love one another” (Jn 13:34) also said, Unless you come to believe that I AM, you will die in your sins (Jn 8:24).
In times like these we are going to have to recover a healthy sense that Jesus not only unites many in his truth, but he also divides and distinguishes by that same truth. Myopic and wistful notions that Jesus want us to be nice and get along cannot supersede his command that we love him and put faith in his truth, even if it means our own family disowns us or is “offended” by us.
In this sense Jesus did not come to “unite” in some merely sociological sense. He came to distinguish his true followers from those who actually follow the world or Satan.
Scripture is replete with references to the fact that Jesus, while desiring to unite everyone in his truth, will also be a source of division in this world. And he will divide not because of any fault of his own, but on account of the foolish obtuseness and stubborn hardness of many fallen humans who prefer darkness to light, lies to truth, and the world to the Kingdom.
Consider that even at the beginning Simeon, holding the infant Jesus and blessing them, said to Mary His mother:
Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign that will be opposed” (Lk 2:34).
Jesus himself said:
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. (Matt 10:34-38)
And St Peter says of Jesus:
Come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious…For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. (1 Peter 2:4-8)
Once the Truth comes into the world, what is false must be rejected. Once the Light has come into the world, the darkness must be called by its proper names: confusion and obscurity. Once the Way has come into this world all other paths are excluded and lead only to Hell. Fr. Robert Barron says well and artfully: “Jesus compels a choice.” We are free to choose, but we must choose. Tertium non datur (no third way is given)!
Yes, in times like these we are going to have to recover notions that Jesus will divide, even as he seeks to unite us in the truth. We cannot go on clinging to a “Hallmark card theology” of pleasantries about getting along and being “nice.” Jesus did not end up before Pilate and nailed to cross by soft-pedaling the truth.
The Truth divides. And some of the divisions are very uncomfortable, reaching right into our families. There are going to be “weddings” we should not attend, gatherings we must refuse, affiliations that must end, affirmations we should not give, confrontations we must make, and silence that is no longer tolerable (if it ever was tolerable).
Indeed, we have gone on too long remaining silent — even approving — while sons and daughters, nieces, nephews, cousins and friends cohabitated, stopped attending Mass, got divorced and remarried and engaged in any number of other immoral and questionable practices.
We thought being quiet would bring peace. It did not. Compromises with the world and the devil do not bring peace but only demands for further concessions and compromises. At the end of the process we are silent, dead in our sins, and the world and the devil just have more victims. This mess we are in today happened on our watch. We who should be prophets are left shaking our heads and wondering how it got so bad. No real mystery here: silent pulpits, silent dinner tables, and suing for a false “peace in our times.”
Somewhere we bought into a notion of a fake Jesus, a harmless hippie who just wanted us to be nice and get along. But that Jesus would never have ended up before the Sanhedrin, or Pilate, or on a cross. The fake Jesus would not have had enemies at all. The fake Jesus would never have many who left him and would no longer follow him because of his teaching on the Eucharist (John 6) or marriage (Matthew 19), or his own divinity (John 8). The fake Jesus is loved by the world because the fake Jesus’ is of this world.
But the true Jesus stood accused before Pilate, and was condemned to die by a world that hated him because he was not of the world.
Scripture says of Jesus:
Jesus suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured! For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. (Heb 13:12-14)
It’s time to decide where your loyalty will be. The dividing line of truth is clearer than ever before. The city of this world cannot bear or contain Jesus. Even to kill him they cast him out of the city gates. Are you willing to bear reproach with him and go out and die with him? Am I?
It’s decision time. Jesus has come for division and the real Jesus want to know where you stand — to divide those who are with him from those who are with the world. Are we worthy of Jesus and the City of God? Or are we just worthy of the city and prince of this world?