Proper 7, Year A
The Godfather, the classic 1972 film by Francis Ford Coppola, opens with a garden wedding at the family estate. It is a homecoming for Michael Corleone, the favorite son who’s just returned from a tour in World War II and is enrolled at Dartmouth. The picture is clear early on—Michael loves his family, but he doesn’t want to be a part of it. The Corleones are a crime organization and they are as tight knit as they are patriarchal. They have a culture all their own, an import of Sicilian semi-feudalism where powerful families are essentially rulers of small fiefdoms—thus the idea of the godfather.
Michael wants to live a more Americanized life with an American girl. He wants to be a part of a different kind of social order than the one in which he was raised. And yet the whole drama of the film is the dissolution of this ideal. Michael is drawn back into the life of his family and its social order and realities. He ends up replacing his father as the Godfather. If only he had hated his father and mother, his sister and brother, a little more.
The teachings of Jesus we find in the Gospel reading for this Sunday are hard, unsettling verses. It’s difficult to imagine Jesus as some peace preaching proto-hippie with a sentence like Matthew 10:34: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” If we are going to be Jesus followers we can’t hope to just all get along with the ways of the world. Division and strife, Jesus tells us, will be the marks of the coming of his coming. Jesus didn’t come into the world to bring peace by settling all of the social relationships of the day; he came to create a Kingdom in which authentic shalom—overwhelming peace and wellbeing—would be possible.
Jesus is following Jeremiah here in dismissing the kinds of peace that does not change the fundamental violence of the way things are. “Everyone is greedy for unjust gain,” Jeremiah proclaims, “They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, ‘peace, peace’ when there is no peace” (6:13-14). As Stanley Hauerwas puts it, “Too often Christianity in our time is justified as a way of life that leads to stability and order. ‘The family that prays together stays together’—but such sentiment cannot help but lead to an idolatry of the family.”
Jesus is calling for us to see God as our Father, the community of disciples as our brothers and sisters. He is calling us to move into a different identity than the one we are given at birth by our family and our society. We are a military family, we are a patriotic family, we are Southern family—these identities won’t stand. Our only hope is that our biological family will join us in the new family of God.
Jesus is paraphrasing the verses of Micah 7:6 in this teaching on the strife that will come to families. This is part of a passage in which Micah is describing the dissolution of society. It is there that he speaks of the break down of the family, but his response isn’t to say lets work on restoring family values and teaching kids to respect their parents. Instead, Micah goes on to say, “But as for me, I will look to the Lord, I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me” (7:7). In other words, the solution to the break down of society isn’t to restore and reaffirm the social order. It is instead to have our lives reordered by God.
So what does this look like for us? Jesus certainly isn’t instructing us to go start a fight with our parents or pick a conflict with our brothers or sisters. He is only calling on us to enter into his way and life, to join the family of God. If we do that he is simply warning, strife will come and you will have to bear your cross. It might be that we choose to leave a corrupt family business or one that works to destroy the world, it could be that we find that we have to quit our jobs because of its exploitation of people or the creation, it could be that by simply living a life that doesn’t worship money we find that others take offense. The conflicts aren’t ours to choose, they are simply the admission price of following the Prince of Peace into his eternal, just and beautiful Kingdom.
If you want to see the alternative just watch The Godfather Trilogy. In the end Michael Corleone dies a violent, lonely death—his soul and body broken. What life could he have had if he had chosen a different kind of belonging, if he had chosen to live for God rather than the Godfather?