THOUGHTS ON THE GOSPEL
Jesus does not often engage in blatant apocalyptic language, but when he does so it does not exactly lack energy. When I was involved in Pentecostal churches this was a favourite passage, reassuring us believers that soon we would be raptured out of human trials, and our nasty neighbours would be left to be (for ever) consumed by fire. The whiny voice of Larry Norman singing a song based on a similar apocalyptic passage (“I wish we’d all been ready”) still sends shivers down my spine.
So it should: apocalyptic is designed to trigger a visceral reaction. You’ll have to read my book (free advertising: even as I type it is coming off the press in the USA*) for my readings of apocalyptic, but it was designed both to comfort and cajole. It was not designed to induce a yawn! But in this brief scene Jesus uses the classic apocalyptic motif of families turning on one another, as one goes towards and others go away from Christ. Are these condemnations of our non-believing siblings to an eternal hellfire? I think not.
They are a realistic image though.
I often try to picture Christmas dinners around the Costello (remember Peter, Tim?) family table. Refugees? Boat people? Illegals? Queue jumpers? The Cathedral in which I was ordained, right in the heart of Melbourne, is currently sporting a massive banner: “Let’s fully welcome refugees”. One imagines Tim and Peter Costello agreeing to disagree on this. Sadly, Mr Rudd and Mr Abbott seem to agree to agree: send the alleged “queue jumpers” (er, what queue?) somewhere else. What would Jesus do?
I was in St Paul’s Cathedral last Sunday, as Professor Andrew McGowan delivered a stinging sermon on just this. I agree with McGowan: I sure as hell don’t think Jesus would send refugees to already stretched and sometimes violent communities. I agree too with Malcolm Fraser that even that threat will not deter those who have watched their sisters raped and their parents or children killed.
“Fathers and sons will turn against one another, and mothers and daughters will do the same. Mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law will also turn against each other”. The Costellos probably know that already.
Some of you will fume at me for even writing this, but I don’t believe the gospel leaves us any choice: Jesus, once the queue-jumping refugee in Egypt, demands that gospel bearers open doors of love.
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