Strange Words

Scripture: Luke 12:49-56

Let us pray:

Guide our minds, our hearts, and our very lives, O Redeeming One, that we might find understanding in these strange words you uttered so long ago, for it is in your name we pray, Amen.

Strange words indeed from the Prince of Peace, the one whom the Angels heralded with their proclamation, “Peace on earth.” So what do we make of this Son of God/Son of Man and today’s troubling lectionary? Isn’t God about bringing peace where there is no peace? Isn’t Jesus God Emmanuel, the one in whom God was en-fleshed for a time in order that all sins might be bourn upon one set of human shoulders, which in turn would be sacrificed and serve as the one sin offering for all time?

Examining a few troubling pieces of our passage at a time may prove helpful. First, the fire Jesus mentions. Commentator David Schlafer writes, “There is a significant difference between fire that cleanses and fire that incinerates.”[1] James and John, who were rebuked for wishing to call down fire earlier in Luke’s Gospel – envisioned incineration. Jesus here refers to the baptism by fire he is about to undergo, that is, the cost of his own life for the sins of the world.

Second, division instead of peace: Jill Duffield, weekly lectionary contributor to the Presbyterian Outlook magazine online, writes, “The word “division” in verse 51 is found only here in the New Testament and the definition of this Greek word is ‘division into partisan and contentious units.’”[2] Well if that isn’t a timely description of current events in politics, I don’t know what is. Scripturally, however, perhaps it is more of a reflection on how far we are from God’s radical familial commonwealth.

Again to quote Schlafer, “To demand peace (and prosperity) at the expense of those on the margins is to cry, “‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace”(Jer. 8:11). Until we get beyond tribal understandings of “peace in our time” (and on our terms), the peace on earth proclaimed by angels will remain a peace that “surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7).[3]
Third, name-calling of hypocritical forecasters. This one is a bit trickier to unravel. Say you were privy to some information that has an impact on public health, or the greater public good, but you were not suppose to know it; you just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and overheard an official cover-up going on. You are now in a place of moral decision making-to reveal or not to reveal; and to whom. Now add in a religious implication regarding the spiritual health of the whole people of God. Those that know the Law and Prophets in and out upside downside and in between should recognize what is going on with the in-breaking of the Kingdom of Heaven in Jesus Christ. For whatever reason, they have turned a blind eye. These are the ones Jesus is calling “hypocrites!”

Theologically, they fall into the same category as the rich “fool” with the big barns…who, if you recall, was blind to the Kingdom outside his own possessions and the injunction to care for the poor, widows and orphans. That is just it – If (or should I say “when”) we are blind to the in-breaking of the Kingdom – those places wherein God’s realm is being enacted here on earth among us – than we, too, are culpable; we, too are in danger of being among those who do not interpret the times. You see, supposedly we are the ones who know – Jesus is coming, and sometimes we forget the urgency that this passage invokes.

Let’s return for a moment to that interesting term, division. We have living among us real and true examples of this division, so we are no strangers to it. When one family member is a believer and another is not, life is hard, and sometimes there seems to be so many sacrifices to make just for the sake of familial unity. My family is no exception. How do we, how can we encourage exploration of faith its value system when a parent does not believe in it – or even actively snubs it?

How can we grow up and into God if our spouse or child has chosen another path, a path of intentional Godlessness? It certainly puts a damper on growing together in Christ, doesn’t it. For some very unfortunate ones, there is even accompanying hazing along the lines of, “why do you believe all that crap anyway? It’s just bogus!”

From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three…” says Jesus.

Ah, yes, it hurts, but as Jesus says in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.

Questions for Reflection

How do you reconcile a sense of division within yourself and the world with the unity we are promised as the people of God? What sustains you in times of conflict? Identify some occasions in your life when you were unable to recognize an invitation to reconciliation and wholeness.

Household Prayer: Morning

Lord of Life, we greet this new day sustained by the great cloud of witnesses who praise your name. Help us to lay aside any burden or distraction that might prevent us from fully serving you this day.

Give us perseverance and joy so that we may come to the end of the day confident in your presence and aware of your blessings. Amen.

Household Prayer: Evening

God of Hope, confirm for us at the close of this day the fulfillment of your promise of provision. Release our concerns for things done and left undone. Give us your peace so that we rise refreshed to serve you with openness and love. Amen.

[1] Schlaver, David. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year C, Volume 3: Pentecost and Season After Pentecost 1 (Propers 3-16).

[2] Duffiled, Jill. “Looking into the Lectionary: 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 14)” The Presbyterian Outlook.

[3] [3] Schlaver, David. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year C, Volume 3: Pentecost and Season After Pentecost 1 (Propers 3-16).


About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
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