Today’s Gospel is one of those particularly hard passages. It’s usually the sort of Gospel passage that we would rather ignore or overlook or deal with another time. It’s harsh, it’s disturbing. It makes us wonder why Jesus is speaking in such an impatient and angry tone.
This is not the Jesus we are used to and probably not the Jesus we want. Where is the water walking, miracle working, dying for me Jesus? What happened to sweet baby Jesus asleep on the hay no crying he made?
This fire bringing, family dividing Jesus makes me uncomfortable. How about you? I’d like to share a story with you.
The great composer Ludwig von Beethoven would sometimes play a trick on polite salon audiences, especially when he guessed that they really weren’t interested in serious music. He would perform a piece on the piano, one of his slow movements perhaps, which would be so gentle and beautiful that everyone would be lulled into thinking the world was a soft, cozy place where they could think beautiful thoughts and relax into a semi slumber. The, as the final notes were dying away Beethoven would bring his entire forearm down with a crash across the keyboard and laugh at the shock he gave to the assembled company.
The shock of that crash of notes interrupting the haunting melody is a good image for what Jesus had to say at the end of the 12th chapter of Luke, our Gospel for this Sunday.
Jesus sees a crisis coming, a crisis of which his own life will be the central feature. He is astonished that so few of those around him can see it at all. They are good at weather forecasts. So why can’t they see what’s going on around them? There is the Roman occupation, the oppressive reign of Herod, arrogant high priests in Jerusalem as well as the selfish agendas of the Pharisees. Why can’t they see the crises coming?
Jesus says, “ I came to bring fire to the earth and how I wish it were already kindled.” Christ came to shake up the world. Fire comes in challenging the unjust decisions of authority which turn a blind eye to the last, the least, and the lost. Fire challenges what the world is like. The word of God is fire, the voice of judgment comes to challenge and confront.
The 1st chapter of Luke’s Gospel begins with the words of Mary’s song. “He has scattered the proud, brought down the rulers from their thrones, has lifted up the humble, filled the hungry, and sent the rich away empty.”
From the beginning we are told that the message Christ brings is powerful and calls for change. Christ introduces this topsy turvy kingdom where rich and poor are equals, where rulers reign with justice, where the proud and conceited are scattered. This is not a peaceful message! The fire that Jesus speaks of requires change from us and that’s not easy. Even receiving God’s love personally is controversial in that it requires our lives to stand out and be different. However, it was not Jesus’ mission to tear apart family structures; his intent was to prepare those followers for the likelihood that staying with him would create divisions among family loyalties. The Jesus of this passage is a bit unsettling and we would do well to let him be so. It is easier, of course, to present the “meek and mild” Jesus as the one who desires personal friendships with 21st century individuals. But that Jesus is not the one of Luke chapter 12. The Gospels also present a Jesus who occasionally struggles with his mission, who expects his followers to understand the “season” they are in, and who leaves us with as many questions as answers.
Every day as Christians we are called to make choices, decisions as to which way we will take. Those decisions sometimes are costly in terms of time, money, family, or friendships. If our destination is important to us we will make the correct choice. May God give us wisdom and courage to make those choices in the days ahead. Thanks be to God. AMEN.