School is back in session! I don’t have school-age children or grandchildren, but still I know school has started back. All of the school zones, for one thing, have the blinking speed limit signs operating again, telling me to slow down to 30 mph or even 20 mph. And the lines of traffic in the morning any time you get near a school! In central Austin, it’s the lines of college students at every taco stand within a two-mile radius, at both breakfast and lunch, that let me know school is back in session. These simple rhythms of daily life are signs of the times, and we all know when we see them what it means. And we adjust our lives accordingly, one way or the other – either to embrace the school runs to pick up and drop off children and grandchildren, or to avoid them!
We do this all the time in our lives, don’t we! We look around and we notice the signs of the times. We know what those signs mean for us, and we know what is coming next in our world, in our lives, in our days, and we respond accordingly. This is not to say that any of this is good or bad, positive or negative; it just is what it is! Signs of the times are simply descriptive of what is happening around us. The rhythms of the school year are just that – patterns of behavior because we are engaged in the important activities of education, and because we all need to get to the same place at the same time.
Jesus tells us we all can read the signs and know what is going on in our world. He tells us we can see rain clouds forming and know how to respond and prepare for rain. He tells us we can feel a south wind and know to anticipate a heat wave and respond by cranking up the air conditioning. So, too, Jesus tells us, we should also be able to hear his teachings and know how to respond to what is coming. But apparently, this is a bit more difficult for us.
In the 12th chapter of Luke’s gospel, Jesus says to the crowds, “I come to bring fire. Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, I have come instead to bring division!” Division?! Really, Jesus?! What happened to that whole “Peace I give you, my peace I leave you” part? Well, for one thing, that’s John’s gospel, not Luke’s gospel. And, we don’t like division and conflict. More than that, we fear conflict and division. We value resolution of conflict more than we value justice for the oppressed or liberation for the captive or freedom for those enslaved by poverty and injustice. We value a quiet unity more than we value proclaiming the gospel truth that calls power to account for its harmful policies and practices. We value calm acquiescence more than we value the righteousness of God. We fear the anger of neighbor or family member offended by our opinions more than we fear the wrath of God’s justice rolling down like water, baptizing all of Creation with its cleansing power.
I think we have to ask ourselves why we are so fearful of conflict? I think we have to ask ourselves how Jesus calls us to live, and whether freedom from conflict is of higher value to us than freedom from oppression. I think we have to ask what it means for us to proclaim the Good News we know in Jesus, even if we know it leads to the overturning of well-established institutions of power and privilege that keep entire populations impoverished and imprisoned. I think we have to ask ourselves, “Are we willing to proclaim justice and freedom and liberation and Good News, even if it leads to division and conflict and anger?” And if living as Jesus would have us live does lead to division and conflict and anger, how are we going to engage in reconciliation and restoration and peacemaking with those who fear God’s good news?
At least this is what I’m thinking during these days as summer winds down and a new school year begins. I guess that’s what Ordinary Time is all about – asking ourselves difficult questions and struggling to find answers. I pray that you will have some time this week to ask yourself these difficult questions, and listen for God’s response to your heart and mind and spirit.