Jesus Asserts He Brings Division Between Family Members Because Wholehearted People’s Freedom Can Be Threatening

Response by Doug Esse

The following is a question/response on a Facebook page dedicated to discussing Richard Rohr’s work. My response follows the question below.

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Does anyone remember if RR has ever commented or taught on the verses in Luke 12:51-53 where Jesus talks about him bringing division between family members? These verses are being used by a very fundamental family member to explain why I need to “defend the gospel” especially around family members who are agnostic. She is cautioning me that I need to recognize the “harsh line” that Jesus is warning us about. And…since I’m not an evangelical anymore I chose not to enter in these no win debates but I would love to know what wise scholars like RR teach about these verses. Any idea who might have a more love based understanding of these verses? Thanks ❤️

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Doug: One area to consider is to first see that the word “convert,” or “repent,” that we read in English comes from “metanoia” which means to “change our minds.” But “mind” is considered to be heartmind (nous). In today’s thinking, “metanoia” could be something like, “expand your way of seeing and living,” or “open your minds to the bigger picture.”

Putting on the “mind of Christ,” as Paul teaches (1 Cor 2:16), is just this: to see from Christ’s point of view…which is always a holistic lens grounded in the fact that everyone is an equal member of the One Body.

Next, when the Lukan community has Jesus saying that he brings division in families, we may be able to interpret this as saying that when a person puts on the mind of Christ (like an energetic cloak), and seats their seeing and living from the heart center, then they begin to experience–and engage–the world from a different order of energy: universal love and understanding.

When a family member begins to live from this different order of living, loving, seeing, and engaging, they are often better able to discern the wheat from the chaff in a given ideology, political belief, culture, or theology. The wholehearted use the metric of universal love and understanding to measure these things. And the big problem which this brings is that family members, all of whom together come from some epicenter of shared belief systems, can no longer guilt or shame the “convert(ing)” person back into conformity.

You can’t unknow what you know as a gnosis when your process of metanoia is authentic and experientially yours. Therefore, divisions appear on the surface from the point of view of the family members who feel threatened by the freedom of the one who has encountered this new “birth,” or new kind of living.

On the other hand, the person who is experiencing the metanoia may actually love the family members even more than before because they can now see them with the complexity that wasn’t appreciated or even realized before their conversion. And the irony is that this juxtaposition can enhance the divisions even more, at least for a while.

I’m thinking of MLK’s quote in his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail:

“Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? … Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.”

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