“I came to cast fire upon the earth. How I wish that it was already ablaze! I have a baptism I must experience. How I’m distressed until it’s completed! Do you think that I’ve come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, I’ve come instead to bring division. From now on, a household of five will be divided—three against two and two against three. Father will square off against son and son against father; mother against daughter and daughter against mother; and mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
Jesus also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud forming in the west, you immediately say, ‘It’s going to rain.’ And indeed it does. And when a south wind blows, you say, ‘A heat wave’s coming.’ And it does. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret conditions on earth and in the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret the present time?”
A lot of people don’t like these verses from Luke. “I don’t think Jesus would’ve said that,” they exclaim. “Well, my Jesus wouldn’t talk that way,” others contend. This poses a huge problem. If we find passages that don’t agree with our sensibilities, we’ll probably start ripping out a lot of the Bible (metaphorically speaking). And when we get enough of us together who do that, we might not have anything left in the Bible except the maps!
When we read things like the passage above, it’s supposed to challenge us, to make us think and ask the hard questions. That’s the point. We’re supposed to be having our lives changed by what the Spirit is saying to us through the Bible not changing the Bible to suit our feelings.
So what do we make of the passage above? In my mind, this all ties to the then coming war with Rome. Jesus used the personal pronoun “you” roughly seven times in the passage above, clearly speaking directly to the people standing around him. He said that they can understand the weather but can’t understand the significance of Jesus being with them. His presence is the incarnation of God (see Malachi 4). He’s returned to his people and found them wanting. Indeed! They’re so far removed from God that they can’t even tell when God’s walking among them.
However, some will see and understand. But because of this understanding, their families will be divided. They’ll claim that Jesus was God’s Messiah and that God’s bringing judgement upon Israel. If they want to be rescued from God’s soon coming wrath, then they’ll follow Jesus. Can you imagine the outcry from their families? We don’t have to imagine, though, for they’re recorded in the Scriptures. And the outcome of this division is recorded in history with Josephus’ War of the Jews, which chronicle Rome’s sacking of Jerusalem and Temple.
But what does this tell us today? Is there nothing for us? I think there is. Following Jesus is still divisive—and by essentially the same type of people. That is, the religious people don’t really like the Jesus of the Bible. You know, the one who welcomed sinners? The one who was a “drunkard and a glutton”? The one who had women and other marginalized people whom society deemed “unclean” for his disciples? The one who stood with the refugees and outcasts? The one who said to love God, your neighbors, and your enemies? That Jesus causes division.
And any time someone stands up for peace and reconciliation of all people, there will be division. Any time someone proclaims #blacklivesmatter, there will be division. Anytime someone says that all people should be able to marry whom they love, there will be division. Anytime someone says that we should stop giving our money to the super-rich and use it to help the poor, there will be division.
So, following Jesus—being Jesus—will cause division to a lot of the religious people and a lot of the non-religious people, too. Following The Way of Jesus is not for the faint of heart. But it’s the only way of bringing God’s Realm to our hurting world. It takes courage to follow The Way of Jesus. May the Spirit of God pour out Grace and Courage to be Christ to the world.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC