In [Luke 12:49-53], Jesus talks about the “division” that his ministry provokes, and the hard choices faced by those who answer his call to discipleship. In our contemporary ecclesial context, one is tempted to understand the kind of “division” Jesus is talking about as describing some very familiar fault lines that we draw in our own minds, fault lines like the one between those who are “orthodox” and those who are “heterodox,” between “reasserters” and “reappraisers,” between “revisionists” and those who stand for the “faith once delivered.”
But what if we’re getting it all wrong? What if the sort of division that Jesus is talking about doesn’t have to do with any of those categories? What if what Jesus is trying to describe is the division between those whose gaze is fixed on ‘Truth’, and those for whom ‘truth’ has become an idol?
In South Africa, during the painful and tenuous transition from apartheid to majority rule, there evolved a curious institution called a “Truth & Reconciliation Commission.” Yes, the truth needs to be told, and it was the job of these commissions to facilitate all the truth-telling that needed to happen. When the truth is suppressed or denied, neither health nor life can long endure. The ability of people who had been ravaged by the institutionalized racism of apartheid to tell their stories, to expose the evils of that system to the purging fire and cleansing water of truth was a necessary step in the healing of that nation. But truth-telling that is abstract, truth that is strictly propositional, truth that doesn’t somehow point beyond itself, quickly become an idol, a sinful, death-dealing idol. By contrast, authentic truth-telling leads inexorably to reconciliation. The kind of truth that is liberating, that sets free, the kind of truth that is a stream of living water welling up to eternal life, is, in the paradigm of the gospel, always configured to reconciliation, always manifesting—if I can be forgiven for exploiting and repurposing the language of liberation theology—always manifesting a preferential option for reconciliation. My friends in Christ, the most sinful, the most death-dealing form of idolatry, is the impulse to use truth as a pretext for staying un-reconciled.
So I’m wondering tonight whether the sort of division Jesus speaks of describes not a chasm between, say, the orthodox and the heterodox, between Episcopalians and those for whom the Episcopal Church is an historical antecedent, but, rather, those who let truth trump unity, and those who tenaciously cling to the ministry of reconciliation? And make no mistake, the ministry of reconciliation is hard work; none of you, I suspect, need me to tell you that. At the most recent meeting of the House of Bishops, one of our guests was Archbishop Justin’s canon for reconciliation, David Porter. Canon Porter is an Ulsterman, and earned his stripes in reconciliation ministry on the streets of Belfast. He told us that “reconciliation can be a real bastard sometimes,” because it usually means that somebody, if not everybody, feels like they didn’t get justice.
Beloved, this gospel we share, this gospel we proclaim, is nothing other than the ministry of reconciliation, reconciliation with God and reconciliation with one another in and through the one who is at the same time our truth and our peace, having broken down every dividing wall of hostility through his self-offering on the cross. To the extent that there are divisions among those who own the faith of Jesus, the world is scandalized and the gospel is robbed of its power. To the extent that we, in a spirit of “true humility and self-abasement,” can unleash the grace of reconciliation to flow over every area of our lives, when our passion for truth is ever configured toward the end of reconciliation, we are like trees planted by streams of living water that bear fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither. Everything we do shall prosper. Floreat Nashotah and praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.