Summary: Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost Luke 12: 49-56 Heavenly Father, empower us to do and say the right thing rather than accept peace at any price. Amen. Title: “Peace at any price.” August
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, August 19, 2001 Luke 12: 49-56
Heavenly Father, empower us to do and say the right thing rather than accept peace at any price. Amen.
Title: “Peace at any price.”
Continuing his instruction to his disciples on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus expresses his burning desire that what he began at his baptism, namely, his sacrificial death, will be completed. Discord and division, even within families, will accompany the peace he brings.
Jewish literature, non-canonical and written between the Old Testament and New Testament, was replete with descriptions of the “woes” that would precede the final “Day of the Lord,” a day of judgment, separating good and evil. What is new here is that Jesus, as Messiah, would suffer those woes. In the Jewish literature there was no notion of this. Furthermore, Jesus’ disciples, the Church, would suffer them as well. This passage is both a rare glimpse into the mind of Jesus, revealing a mixture of impatience for it to happen and reluctance that it inevitably must happen, and also a warning to his disciples that the same will happen to them. Peace, his peace, does not mean the absence of conflict, discord and division. Not even families will be spared the disharmony that results when a person opts for Christ. However great salvation is, there is a personal price for everyone to pay. Those who accept Christ on his terms will suffer temporarily. Those who reject him will suffer eternally. There is no escaping God’s judgment. But, before that, there is no escaping each individual making a decision.
In verse forty-nine, I have come to set the earth on fire, fire, of course, means judgment. The image in people’s minds would be that of metal being “tested” in fire. That process results in two things. First, the impure elements in metal are separated out of the metal and removed. So, the first result is the separation and removal of evil. The second result is the purification of the good metal. It is now free from dross, pure, honestly and only what it should be. Fire, then, connotes judgment, which to the evil means destruction and to the good salvation. Jesus came for that purpose. As Messiah, he will undergo the fiery process for others, but there is a dimension of it that others also must undergo.
How I wish it were already blazing, Jesus is anxious to get on with it. His human side and, perhaps, his divine side, wants this over with.
In verse fifty, there is a baptism with which I must be baptized, back in 3:16 the Baptist described Jesus’ baptism of others as a baptism “with the Holy Spirit and fire.” What Jesus began at his own baptism is about to come to completion. As an immersion in water, baptism connotes being overwhelmed and submerged in chaos. This completion of his mission will not be a cakewalk and he knew it. Neither will it be a mere submission to fate. Jesus is freely, if not without reluctance and reservations, entering into this process of “trial by fire.”
And how great is my anguish until it is accomplished, if verse forty-nine, shows his impatience, this verse shows his reluctance. The word used, synecho, “to be dominated by a thought,” indicates a kind of preoccupation, even obsession, with the thought of what lies ahead.
In verse fifty-one, not- peace…division, certainly, Luke paints Jesus as a bringer of peace. The general tone of his teaching would support that. However, Jesus says his peace is not unqualified, not peace as the world understands it. His peace is the same as salvation, wholeness. Indeed, the result, not the cause, of his preaching, is, for those who reject him, not peace but discord and division. It is not “peace at any price” but peace at a very high price, the price of non-compromise on principles, and the price of one’s life, if necessary. Jesus lit a lot of fires by his teaching and behavior. For many, religion’s main purpose is the repetition and preservation of the status quo. Not so for Jesus. He is not the cause, however, of discord, nor is discord his purpose. The result of accepting Jesus is division, division from any and all who are not in harmony with Jesus, “at peace” with him, if you will.
In verses fifty-two to fifty-three, Jesus spells out the lengths to which this discord might extend, division within families. He alludes to Micah 7: 1-7 about the disappearance of the godly from the earth and what even families must consequentially suffer. “ For the son dishonors his father, the daughter rises up against her mother. The daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, and a man’s enemies are those of his own household.” Micah 7:6. The verse indicates that the enmity is between the older and younger generation, without specifying which generation would be on the side of Christ. Compared with Micah 7:6 this verse gives more attention to divisions among women, perhaps an indication of the prominent roles women assumed in the church and certainly consistent with Luke’s highlighting the role of women both positive and negative. Since the church was not founded on existing human and family relationships but on Baptism and since Jesus taught that true relationship is based on acceptance of God’s word, it is consistent with his insistence on unqualified loyalty to him that family loyalty and “peace” come second. In this verse Jesus is teaching that his disciples should not be surprised to find opposition to their being Christian or to their Christian principles and practices coming from their family members. In so far as that opposition, discord and division is a result of the Christian message and reaction to it, it is a sign of the coming of the Kingdom just as are Jesus’ healings and exorcisms.