Gospel, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! “

This a shift of mood in the gospel from last week’s Luke 12:32-48. That passage begins with a beautiful theme of blessing for the crowd. “Do not be afraid, little flock” to this week’s “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” Now there’s a shift ! 

When he is with the crowd, strangers and foreigners, he proclaims the Good News of God’s unconditional acceptance and universal compassion. When Jesus is with the disciples, his teaching is far more demanding and often blunt.

Contradicting the angels’ promise of peace on earth at his birth in Luke 2, Jesus emphatically denies that he’s come to bring peace. Instead, he claims to be the bearer of discord and fragmentation. As he journeys toward Jerusalem, Jesus becomes a source of conflict and opposition when he lays claim to startling forms of authority and power. His words are marked with a sense of urgency and intensity. The road to Jerusalem, after all, leads to a violent confrontation with death.

"Fire Window" – National Cathedral, Washington

This week’s gospel can be divided into three parts :

1 In verses 49-53, there are three images – casting fire, baptism/immersion , division of family members

At least with the first two images, fire and baptism, Jesus’ is distressed that he hasn’t completed these tasks. By placing this saying in the midst of the journey narrative — Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem but not there, yet — Luke may be indicating that the completion of these tasks takes place on the cross in Jerusalem when he is "immersed" into death, or, in a broader sense, his immersion into the passion/suffering events that take place in Jerusalem

Jesus explains the way in which His coming will “cast fire on the earth.” He also expresses an eagerness to get on with the process of bringing fire to the earth. This “fire” has implications for the family, but not those which we would prefer. The coming of Christ will cause great division within families, driving wedges between those family members between whom we normally find a strong bond.

What is this fire ?

One possibility of the “fire” of which Jesus spoke is the same fire about which the prophets, including John the Baptist, spoke—the fire of divine wrath. When Jesus said that He had come to “kindle a fire” – the outpouring of God’s wrath on sinful Israel/ His death on the cross would set in motion a series of events, which will eventuate in the pouring forth of God’s divine wrath on sinners.

Another possibility is to consider the phrase “begin on fire” to refer to someone who is passionate about something. We need to get rid of things that exploit and do not sustain us (such as poverty, racism, disease). Redemption can come only when those systems are shattered and consumed by fire and we rebuild based on a different set of values. Business as usual means injustice and death. Thus, life can not flourish with a crisis which is God’s presence.

Thirdly, it can also speak to Jesus transformation – from man to resurrected individual and the change. His purpose was to become a sacrifice for our sins and his baptism was the crucifixion. His death on the cross would set in motion a series of events, which will eventuate in the pouring forth of God’s divine wrath on sinners and the creation of the church

One needs to separate the idea of “means” and “end” in this passage . The difference is, on the one hand, that between “then” (heaven, the kingdom of God) and “now.” “Peace” is the end, but a sword and division is the means. “Life” is the end, but death—our Lord’s death, and the disciple’s “taking up his cross” is the means

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from his German prison cell in 1944 about the violence which destroyed the sense of fulfillment of life for him and the long isght of history. Out of this painful experience came a profound insight, part of his Daily Meditations from His Letters: “This very fragmentariness may, in fact, point toward a fulfillment beyond the limits of human achievement."

What is this baptism ? This part of the scripture refers to Jesus himself and not his followers. Not immersion in water but tis baptism is clearly the death which He would die on the cross of Calvary. He is being cleansed for a purpose . His purpose was to become a sacrifice for our sins and his baptism was the crucifixion. It can refer also to his mission against the structures of the world about which he is “stressed” since it will lead to his own death. Yet, there is relief when it is over.

The division which Jesus speaks of here has several interesting features. Following Jesus is more than just affirming his message – it is teaching of action which has its consequences. First, there is a division which occurs within the family.

-father against son 

-mother against daughter 

-mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law  

Peter Wood speculates that Jesus may have meant, 1. Conflict within the order of Rome, the cult of the emperor. 2. Conflict within Jewish families with the importance of the mother determining who is Jewish. 3 Conflict within entities themselves such as within believers, or today within churches,

Second, there is a polarization which is described, so that it is not “one against one,” or to follow the imagery established by our Lord, “one against four,” but “two against three” and “three against two.” All these numbers don’t divide evenly. Is this the origin of “being at odds with someone”?

Those who have come to faith in Christ will join together into a new kinship, while those who have rejected Christ will also find a new bondage, a new basis of unity, in opposition to Christ

As Phyllis Tickle writes, “All change – even Good News change – will cause conflict and grief for the simple reason that all change – even Good News change – means giving up / losing something, and it means valuing one thing over another.” Out of the old traditional family comes a new family of believers. This was a challenge to the biological family in that time, extremely important. You risk being cast out – an extraordinary demand.” You risk your own baptism on the cross.

Jesus warned that those who make a commitment to him will be persecuted, that a commitment of faith also means that our attitude toward material possessions must change, and that moral responsibilities must be taken with even greater seriousness. Because our commitment to Christ shapes our values, priorities, goals, and behavior, it also forces us to change old patterns of life, and these changes may precipitate crises in significant relationships

2 In verses 54-57, Jesus speaks specifically to the multitudes, pointing out a very serious hypocrisy. He reminds them that while they can forecast tomorrow’s weather by looking at present indicators, they cannot see the coming kingdom of God as being foreshadowed by Christ’s first coming.

The illustration seems to point to the weather patterns in the Near East. The Mediterranean Sea was to the west and winds from that direction brought rain. The desert was to the south and winds from that direction brought heat.

He calls the religious leaders hypocrites. He criticized them and also his hearers about their lack of ability to perceive spiritual realities around them. Why, then, could these people, skilled at reaching conclusions about the weather, not come to the conclusion that Jesus was the Messiah, based on the voluminous evidence, all of which conformed perfectly to the predictions of the prophets?

You can look at this in another way and see the implications of our own lives. It is time to check the direction of the wind and let that determine the course of action. We tend to let the insignificant dominate our attention while miss or ignore the significant. Our actions help to determine the future as natural consequence follow from the weather

3 Verses 58 and 59 conclude the chapter by making a very personal and practical application. Reconciliation with their opponent needs to take place prior to standing before the judge.

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