When Will Us and Them Become We?: A Reflection on Luke 12:49-56 by Fran Salone-Pelletier

A version of this piece originally appeared in an edition of the Brunswick Beacon—Ed.

The airwaves are crowded with commentaries. Everyone has an opinion, merited or not. No one seems to listen before speaking. Questions galore are presented with a desire for acceptable answers more than respectful responses. Friendly conversations are frozen with the iciness of solitary opinions. None seem to convey a terrible truth. Nobody has the complete and correct answer to puzzling problems.

So, we take sides. We stand firmly on the ground of our convictions, even if we ourselves are unsure of their irrefutable verity. Insidiously, a creeping infallibility declares, “If you are not with me, you are against me.” Discussions become arguments. Friendships erode, perhaps even corrode.

It is terrifyingly similar to the harsh Lucan passage found in chapter 12, verses 49 to 56. I know I cringe every time I read it. Each successive reading is more unsettling than the previous one. The passage I note reads:

I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized and what stress I am under until is completed!  Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on . . . they 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. . . . You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time? And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?

I cannot simply dismiss this message as a scriptural hyperbole. Nor can I blind myself to the message being conveyed to us from a loving parent God who cannot to let the family continue to splinter into discordant factions—despite the apparent statement that this is exactly what God desires!

Reconsider the words.

The fire of divinity must be kindled. We cannot survive as a people if we settle for the embers and ashes of passivity and superficiality. We are called to be afire with love for each other. The divisions we have created must become signs that we are settling for less than we are.

All is not well with our world and we seem to do nothing positive about it. Rather than to seek and find the good, we scramble to find the negative. Instead of working together, we oppose each other in concretized criticism rather than compassionate critique. It’s a perpetuation of the old “put this in your pipe and smoke it” attitude.

More tragically, the dilemma is universal. Read about it in religious periodicals. Find it on the front pages of the secular press. See it written in opinion pieces. View it daily in full color on television or hear it on the radio.

Why do we not read the signs of the times and judge for ourselves what is right so that all of us can live well together? Why do we not find ways in which we can truly express our concern for the global good, instead of our individual preservation?

How can we watch media presentations of worldwide disasters, both natural and those made by human refusal to aid in the pursuit of common good? How can we sit, even uncomfortably, within view of global calamities and not feel the pain of those whose lives are systematically being destroyed? Will we continue to find fault with all who are trying to stem the tide without joining them in their efforts in whatever way we can?

I write this with sorrow. I feel the burden as well as the call to do something, even if it is only to put the dilemma into words. I refuse to think or believe that there is nothing at all I can do but sit and wait for someone else to take the challenge and run with it.

A ministerial friend, many years ago, challenged a whole group of us with this statement. “Don’t say the only thing left to do is pray. Prayer is the first thing to do.” I hear him telling us to put first things first. I hear his challenge to pray . . . and then take action as a result of our prayerfulness.

I have never forgotten his words, his prophetic message. It is, as well, the motto of the Benedictines: Ora et labora, “pray and work.” This is the marriage of God and humankind. It is a unity which cannot be separated without serious consequences. It is the construct of the family of God—all of us, no matter how we name or claim our relationship.

It is the only way, in my humble opinion, that we humans can learn how to interpret the present time of catastrophic occurrences. It is the only way we can discover ways in which we can work toward unity as people with individual talents and gifts laboring together to build “a more perfect union.”

It may never be perfect. That is not the issue. Nor is it the goal. The goal for which we strive is a “more perfect” union. It is to recognize the dangerous state we enter when we refuse both to admit our imperfection and to recognize the good to be found in others.

Us and them must become we. We really have no choice in the matter if we want to survive. Together, we both become and share the fire of divine love that has yet to be kindled. Separate and separated, we will only be embers of love’s holocaust. We might continue to exist, but will we be truly alive?

I end as I began with one question. Might I call it a burning issue? When will us and them become we?

Ora et labora—pray . . . and work at it!

Fran Salone-Pelletier holds a master’s degree in theology. She is the author of a trilogy of scriptural meditations, Awakening to God: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives, as well as a religious educator, retreat leader, lecturer, and grandmother of four. She can be reached at hope5@atmc.net.

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