AVOIDING CONFLICT IS CONFLICT
“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! (Luke 12:49)
Some time ago a newspaper columnist Arthur Jones, shared an important moment in his earlier life with his readers. It happened when he was drafted into the Royal Air Force and found himself in military barracks with 30 other men. On the first night he had to make a decision. He had always knelt to say his prayers. Should he continue to kneel now that he was in military service? He squirmed a little and then said to himself: “Why should I change just because people are watching? Am I going to begin my life away from home by letting other people dictate what I should do or not do?” He decided to kneel. By the time he had finished, he became aware that everyone else was aware of him. And when he made the Sign of the Cross, he was aware that everyone else knew he was a Catholic. As it turned out, he was the only Catholic in the barracks. Yet, night after night he knelt. He said that those ten minutes on his knees often led to discussions that lasted for hours. On the last day in boot camp, someone said to him, “You are the finest Christian I’ve ever met.” He replied, “Well, I might be the most public Christian you’ve ever met, but I don’t think I’m the finest. Still, I thank you for what you said.” – That story illustrates one of the points of today’s gospel. Commitment to Jesus means taking a stand on certain things. And sometimes that stand sets us in opposition to other people.
Trying to avoid conflict is conflict. Healthy adults talk about problems. We look for solutions. When people hurt us, we communicate with compassion. In the first reading of today, Jeremiah had the unpleasant task of warning the people that if they continued in their corrupt way of life and did not repent and return to God, their nation would be destroyed. The people did not like Jeremiah’s warnings and complained that his message was demoralizing. He was accused of treason and punished by being lowered in a cistern where he was stuck in the mud until he was rescued. Jeremiah knew he had to speak the truth and warn the people no matter what the consequences to his life. Despite his pain, the prophet remained faithful to his mission.
One thing is clear – you cannot comfort the afflicted without afflicting the comfortable. Peace is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by a peaceful means. To live the Gospel faithfully is to become a contradiction to those around us, to seek to attain a higher ethical and moral standard in confronting life’s challenges. The Gospel calls us to risk power, prestige and even acceptance to stand up for the equality, justice, compassion and reconciliation that every individual possesses by virtue of being a son and daughter of God.
The Gospel of Jesus is not easy, it is not comfortable; it is challenging and demanding and, in its call for personal conversion, it can be divisive and confrontational. Discipleship is not without cost; balancing the Gospel of unconditional, reconciling love and its ethical and moral imperatives with the reality of our lives is very difficult. Despite the divisive consequences, Christ calls us to the hard work of seeking the mercy and justice of God and living his Gospel of reconciliation and peace in our own time and place, regardless of the cost.
In the divisions we suffer, in the contradictions we encounter, in the disconnect between the conventional wisdom and the wisdom of God, the love of God is the one constant that brings us back to one another, that heals the rifts, that bridges the divides between us.
Fr. Charles Chidiebere Mmaduekwe