Jesus the divider
—John Quick, 14 Aug 2016
Luke 12. 49–56
+May I speak in the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In today’s gospel Jesus delivers hard and bewildering words to his followers and to us. ‘My purpose is to light a fire on the earth, and I wish it were already lit! I must receive a baptism, and I am in agony until it is over!” He insists that no matter what we might have thought, he has not come to establish peace, but division. A household will be divided, father against son, mother against daughter, mother in law against daughter in law.
This difficult passage seems to contradict many other portions of the gospel. It seems not to fit our notions of the prince of peace, but Christians ought never to expect that discipleship makes life easy. To follow Jesus into his baptism is to participate with him in his passion and resurrection. It is to carry significant responsibilities, and sometimes to be misunderstood and punished for meeting our responsibilities.
We need to remember that the Gospel of Luke was not written for our ears. It was written for that time and for those who were just learning about what it meant to be a follower of Jesus. The gospel writer was most likely addressing a gentile audience in a time when people who turned from their pagan religions to become followers of Jesus would most likely have caused division even in their own families. We know historically about the Christian persecutions that happened in those times, and we need to understand that this gospel was written to establish Jesus as Messiah, to show that he has authority over all things, and that his teachings and message were for all God’s people, Jew and gentile alike.
Jesus wasn’t saying that he wanted division to come to God’s people, he was just saying that he knew that there would be those who would turn their backs not only on him, but on those who followed him. Jesus died so that we might have life and have it to the fullest, remember. Jesus’ frustration may well have been that he dearly wanted God’s people to live out the two great commandments, to be happy and at peace, to care for the poor and needy; and as he didn’t see it happening, he cried out in anger.
Having said that we must not get too comfortable. We hear passages from the Bible read out every week not just to hear about our past, but to reflect on what they have to say to us. Would Jesus have something different to say to us if he walked into our churches today?
And if we are honest the world is still a fractured place and there are still many examples of divided families, countries and nations at war. Yet we have many examples of Christians down the centuries who have given us an example of how to live.
As our reading from Hebrews tells us: ‘We are so surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.’ Hebrews 12.
The message is clear, even when Christians are at odds with many around them. Jesus died for our sins and many have followed his example standing up for what they know to be right—most recently Fr. Jacques Hamel the priest in St.Etienne-du-Vouvray near Rouen in France. Our task is to follow Jesus’ great commandment—to love our neighbour as ourselves.
I’m going to end by reading you part of a contemporary reflection on today’s readings. It comes with a slight health warning some of you might find parts of it a little uncomfortable as I did!
‘But What about Health and Safety’ in Contemporary Reflection for praying and preaching—A Year C Resource by Sheila Walker. Published by Kevin Mayhew, 2006. ISBN 184417-661-4.
+In the name of God, Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Amen.