Luke 12:49-56 is a challenging passage to read, let alone preach. Anything that begins with Jesus talking about “casting fire” on the Earth is enough to make me slow down. Honestly, it’s different, and instead of keeping it arms-length and moving on, let’s go in for a closer look.
Why does Jesus seem so abrupt in Luke 12? I’m not sure he’s abrupt as much as he’s frustrated. Jesus knows his time on Earth is short, and from just reading the text, Jesus says he is under stress. He’s getting closer to Jerusalem, Passover, and the inevitable clash between what he represents and the religious authorities. There is so much on his mind. At this stage in his ministry, I believe Jesus is hoping for a broader sense of engagement with his teachings. He wants the crowds (Luke indicates at the beginning of the chapter that thousands are following Jesus) and the disciples to understand his message. Every preacher wants the people to plug in and “get it”. From Jesus’ perspective, it doesn’t appear that those in the crowd have fully understood the confrontational aspects and possibly divisive nature of his ministry. By the time we get to verse 49, Jesus comes right out and says what he means. There are no parables or stories. If we follow Jesus, the implications could lead to division in our families or households. These verses do not mean Jesus is coming to divide families from each other. Nor is Jesus’ goal to foster war. The Prince of Peace is the Prince of Peace. Humanity will know peace because Christ knew violence on the cross. Everything in this passage is ultimately pointing us to the Cross. Do we understand what’s about to happen to Jesus or not? Can we read the signs? Do we get what’s about to occur? Have we considered the implications of what Christ’s death and resurrection will mean for humanity?
Jesus reinforces what we’ve known since we joined the church. Following Jesus calls each of us to make a choice, sometimes hard choices. It is never easy to be a full-time disciple of Jesus Christ. Walking in Jesus’ footsteps is demanding. Jesus’ lifestyle and teachings conflict with the dominant values of our society. It’s easier to go along, get along, and accept the world as we’ve inherited it. Jesus says, “as is” isn’t good enough, even in our families. Our belief in the triune God sets us apart and reveals differences between ourselves and those we are closest too. In those moments, we trust the love of God to heal the brokenness between us and bring us back together.
Richard Lowell Bryant