Disrupter of Peace?
"Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!"
August 15, 2022, Words By: Fred Laceda, Image By: Blakely Dadson
The lectionary text for this week feels bizarre to say the least. Jesus says that he didn’t come to bring peace, but division. At first glance, this runs counter to everything we believe is Jesus’ message. After all, isn’t the work of sowing division and discord Satan’s doing? What’s happening here?
Is Jesus subverting our expectations again?
As usual, it appears He is. Elsewhere in the New Testament, Jesus says that the peace he gives his disciples is not the same as the peace of this world. That statement made me wonder what kind of peace Jesus might be referring to in these texts.
A Different Kind of Peace
As I reflect deeper on the lectionary text, it seems to me that Jesus is rejecting a form of peace that holds together our societies, civilizations, and yes, even our families. What social mechanism can account for such formative power in the human condition? The answer is what many sociologists call the “scapegoat mechanism” — the process by which a group of people, consciously or subconsciously, identifies a single person or thing as responsible for the problems within the group. Transferring the blame to a scapegoat, in effect, sacrificing them, unifies the rest of the group and allows them to avoid their own issues.
And our lectionary text reveals two issues at the very core of this sacrificial practice.
“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.” (Luke 12:52 – 53)
First, it’s not a coincidence that the deeply held rivalries, either in mythology or in our everyday life, involve family members. It’s from the family where we first learn to imitate, to desire, to love and be loved, but also to engage in conflict and rivalry. In mythological stories, usually about sibling rivalries, the strife grows to drag the whole community into the conflict, necessitating a solution. Often, the solution involved literally sacrificing a scapegoat.
As societies have become more “rationalized,” the sacrificial mechanism of scapegoating is concealed and not readily apparent. But the mechanism remains effective, built-into the structures of society, and most potently, inside a family. As an example, it’s common to believe that a child becomes the “black sheep” of the family due to their behavioral issues. But psychologists recognize that’s usually backwards. The “black sheep” of the family is often the “symptom-bearer” for the group; unaware that they are acting out the family’s issues in their own behavior. When a family has a black sheep to blame, the rest of the group can achieve a false peace by focusing on the scapegoat and avoiding their own issues.
“Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!
From now on five in one household will be divided” (Luke 12:51 – 52)
Disrupting False Peace
The second part of this sacrificial history is the significance of the division Jesus is talking about (v. 51). The division refers to two different but related things: (1) The symbolic nature of disrupting the false peace of family relations that are held together by the sacrificial logic of scapegoats. (2) The other is in relation to time. His words, “from now on…” is an apocalyptic timestamp unveiling a period where the nature of the false peace is exposed.
What Jesus unveils here has immense implications for all of us as members of the human family. Violence concealed in the name of peace and unity is a society-wide practice. And those who disrupt this false peace are called troublemakers.
But Jesus is showing a different way: avoiding scapegoating and owning and confronting our own issues in order to experience a true peace that doesn’t require sacrificing anyone.
In my country, the pandemic has been revelatory in many ways, especially when it comes to families. Domestic violence has always been part of communities, but the pandemic has amplified the problem due to the time shared in a small space in urban poor areas. But there is another, more subtle, case. The stories of people who need to “sacrifice” in less visible shapes or forms, to uphold the family’s false peace and unity. This became evident with the skyrocketing numbers of individuals who sought counseling and mental health interventions at the height of the pandemic.
False unity and peace may seem easier on the front end, but they end up hurting everyone. Jesus wants to divide such unity and peace that comes at the expense of the victims, the ones hidden in the structures of our community, church, and yes, even family. He wants to lead us down a harder but better path.
Dwelling Among Us
What kind of peace are we practicing in our family, church and community?