Southern writer Flannery O’Connor, with her eye for the grotesque and her ear for the bizarre, was so riveted by today’s passage from Matthew that she wrote a 150-page novella titled after one of the lines: The Violent Bear It Away. Unfortunately, like generations of Bible scholars before her, even a literary genius of O’Connor’s ilk could not quite pin down what Jesus meant by this strange statement. Like many of his sayings, it is both profoundly mysterious and more than a little disturbing. But one thing is clear: he is trying to tell us something important about this spiritual path we are on.
First, Jesus is warning us not to get ambushed by our familiar old worldview. The Kingdom of Heaven is nothing if not utterly surprising, and if we keep trying to comprehend it through a lens that makes us feel comfortable, we’ll never even get close. For it is no longer the credentialed and the competent and the careful who are winning the prize, but those whose longing for God knows no bounds, who are audaciously claiming for themselves what more cautious heads have rejected.
Second, Jesus is urging us to wake up. Throughout the Gospels, miracles are occurring and great prophecies are being fulfilled, yet still we hesitate. Despite the divine invitation lying on our doorstep, we’d rather huddle inside, peering through the peephole at a Kingdom bursting with fire and light: God, transforming the world while we watch from a safe distance.
(from today’s reflection in Give Us This Day)