Maybe it’s because most of us get our first impressions of Jesus while we are still young that we tend to think of him as a gentle person. After all, the meek and mild image seems to fit in well with what we want to say to small children.

But when we grow up it’s a different matter. Do we still think of Jesus as the quiet, gentle mannered preacher who never spoke a word in anger? If we do, then we’re in for a shock in today’s gospel.

The Jesus whom we glimpse today is full of passion and single-minded about his mission. He’s the activist from heaven, the zealous, fiery, frustrated messenger of change. Do you think I’ve come to bring peace? No, he says. If you listen to me then the trouble will really start. My message brings not peace but division.

To believe in Jesus is to accept a whole set of values that threatens many people, a life so radical that it looks down on what others deem success, an all-consuming dedication to fight for the downtrodden which makes more enemies than friends. Even your own family will be divided, says Jesus. That’s because the message you bring and the life you live will prove too much for them.

The temptation of human frailty is constantly to downgrade the demands of the gospel. Our tendency is to pass off Christianity as if it were as domesticated as bingo, as socially acceptable as a round of golf and as unthreatening as a rubber cutlass.

Over the next five or six weeks St Luke will present us with some of the social implications of following Jesus, showing us that the values which society considers normal are often far from Christianity. We will see Jesus calling us to give our lives for others with no thought of reward. And we will be called upon to be so outspoken that it will stick in people’s throats.

Not very comforting? Perhaps not, but that’s what Jesus promises us in today’s uncompromising gospel.

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