Pentecost 12: 15 August Luke 12:49-56
‘I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52From now on, five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53they will be divided:
father against son
and son against father,
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’54 He also said to the crowds, ‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, “It is going to rain”; and so it happens. 55And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, “There will be scorching heat”; and it happens. 56You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?
A lecturer at Agricultural College told us he had once casually asked a student if he was going back on the farm after university to take over from Dad. The young man replied, “Well, Grandpa hasn’t let Dad have a go at running the farm yet.”
There can be a tyranny of power in families. Crossan notes that the divisions in the household are related along lines of power, particularly between the generations.
John Dominic Crossan presents a novel approach in limiting the actual words of Jesus to the aphorism about a divided household. He notes that the division is not dependent on faith in the reign of God or on Jesus himself. He also points to the emphasis on generations rather than gender. He suggests that the reign of God’s love tears families apart along the axis of power, particularly power that is abused as parental power has often done. Quoted by John Shearman
Typically we have seen the text from the perspective of the believer versus the non believer. That is sadly common enough, but Crossan’s point is important. It is believer and generational difference here, which invites us to consider the nature of the power dynamics in Jesus’ illustration.
In this vein, Bill Loader says
If there is a place for ‘harmony’ in the teaching of Jesus, it is about unity with God and what God is doing in the world and a sense of solidarity with those travelling that path….‘Peace at all costs’ has no place here. That kind of harmony gilds oppression with respectability and rewards wrong. Instead we face a full scale conflict, taken right into the heart of human formation: the family. The family is being dethroned from its absolute claims. It is not an invitation to the kind of fanaticism which dislocates sectarians from family and friends and all else for obsession with an unrelated cause. Rather this passion springs from the heart of the human condition. It is the passion for love, for change, for justice, for renewal. These are not the fanatical tenets of a cult, but the foundations of hope. So Jesus is confronting the gods of family and warning that this is very dangerous territory.It was not that Jesus sought to subvert families as such. It was rather that he espoused a vision of God and God’s agenda for change which often stood in direct conflict with other absolute claims, like wealth, possessions, land, culture, religion and family…
We ought be very careful to see where Bill sees the valid and stark claim of the gospel, and where he grants religion no authority. This is the claim of Luke’s Jesus we should hear today:
Instead we face a full scale conflict, taken right into the heart of human formation: the family. The family is being dethroned from its absolute claims.
Jesus claim is
… not an invitation to the kind of fanaticism which dislocates sectarians from family and friends and all else for obsession with an unrelated cause.
The disowning of children because they leave the sect, or marry the wrong religion are not Christian actions. This is taking up a sword when one has felt the prick of the spirit into one’s private kingdom, and cleaving the hearts of the family one ought love. Those who live by the sword die by the sword is the corrective aphorism if we wish to use hard words from the gospel.
The heart of human formation, in the beginning, is the family, nuclear or not. It is there we begin to learn, and are first injured. The freedom the gospel offers us is to step out of that family, and place the heart of our formation in the hands of God. As Christians we understand the path to doing that is via the pioneering path of Jesus.
So we come to follow Jesus, seeking peace, justice, and the kingdom. What does this do, but immediately challenge the power structure to which we formally gave allegiance? How much do we wish for the peace? We may need to endure great and painful division, even division with Matthew’s sword. (10:34)
That power structure may, in fact, have subverted the gospel of Jesus, essentially claiming to own the gospel with its particular sectarianism.
It may be that family is not the locus of power which we immediately confront. Other social structures may be the first to notice our change of allegiance. Eventually, they will notice us, and we will have little choice about their response if we are to remain faithful to the ethos of Jesus.
All this has been said in a chapter of Luke where much emphasis is laid on being ready. The same issue is now raised again in verses 54 -56. "Surely you can see the significance of the time… that we are in God’s time?!" (kairos) Traditionally this saying is seen through the filter of a second coming of Christ. But in reality, its import is far wider. All time is God’s time. If we do not live as though that is the case, we truly are hypocrites, preaching one thing and living another. It is not some case of Jesus coming back at some unannounced time. The Divine is here and now, claiming our allegiance. More fool us if we do not respond, for we will indeed be found, and are now, not ready.
Andrew Prior August 10 2010
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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