Fire And Division
Ordinary 20 Year C
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. Luke 12: 49 — 53
One of the good features of following the international 3 year lectionary Scripture reading cycle is that we are confronted by all parts of the Gospel accounts. We are not free to pass conveniently over the unpopular parts and always choose our favourites. This week’s reading is one of the less popular passages, and one which if taken out of context, can appear strange and disturbing.
We need to remember that it is an extension of the block of teaching by Jesus as appearing in our readings over the past few weeks. It is important therefore not to read it out of context. In other words, the thoughts and reflections on the readings of the past few weeks should be revisited and kept in mind as we unpack the brief reading before us.
Setting the Scene
Recall that about 8 weeks ago we began the “travel narrative”. In this we have observed Jesus Messiah evangelising in the areas south of His Galilean home territory. We encounter Him now, still on His “spiritual” path to Jerusalem. In the first half of this journey (Luke 9 — 14), Jesus, in forthright manner, makes clear the qualities He requires of those who follow Him.
Our Lord is still surrounded by a great number of people which included enraged leaders, excited and curious crowds from ordinary folk, as well as his own little band of disciples. It is in this setting He adds to His previous teaching, some rather (at first hearing) abrupt words which take His listeners from thoughts about His return to personal crises in their own lives.
Some Reflections On Our Text
“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were
Unlike the prophets of old, Jesus Messiah never called down fire from heaven to consume or destroy His opponents. In this reading He is using “fire” as a figure of speech, because of what it can do.
• destroy by burning to ashes (e.g. rubbish)
• purify by removing what is not desired (e.g. removing impurities from gold)
• strengthen by changing the nature of something (e.g. metals)
Our Lord is thereby making an outspoken claim that he has come to:-
— destroy the evil in humanity
— purify the goodness
— strengthen human weakness.
It is vitally important to understand that far from intending to frighten his faithful followers, Our Lord has a very consoling message for them. Perhaps it could be paraphrased as:
“I have come to preach good news: free God’s people from all that
hinders them, troubles them, disturbs and harms them. I have come
to build up the goodness within them and make it even better in
God’s sight. I have come to strengthen them where they are weakest.
I want these things so much for them, I wish it were already
accomplished for them.”
There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and
how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!
We know that Yeshua — Jesus was already baptised when he said these words. He is therefore again, using a familiar term in a metaphorical way. One does not baptise oneself in water. If we wish to be baptised we submit ourselves to someone in authority who passes on membership, belonging, and restoration.
“I have yet to be plunged into suffering as a person is plunged into
water when they are baptised. The very thought of this encounter
causes me great distress. However, I have come to restore membership
to God’s family of all who are willing to be cleansed and lifted up.
I will be anxious until every such person is recovered”.
Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?
No, I tell you, but rather division.
This is sometimes interpreted as “I have come to cause division.”
Nothing could be further from the truth, and it is one of the reasons for so much confused misunderstanding about these words of our Lord. Jesus is not the cause of division.
It may be helpful to re-express his words in our contemporary manner of speech. He is in fact preparing His followers, no matter what epoch they live in, to realise that it is not He, but His coming which can lead to division. He is saying:
“People have a choice. I have come to give them that choice.
Sadly, only some will choose to listen to me. Those who do
not will often taunt those who do.”
Jesus has come to give peace to those who listen to Him and choose to follow. But it is not a peace, in this world, which evades conflict. Rather, an inner peace which strengthens Our Lord’s followers to persevere no matter what is permitted to come their way.
Verses 52 and 53
From now on a household of five will be divided, three against
two and two against three;
a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father,
a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother,
a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law
against her mother-in-law.”
Tragically there will be conflict and division even among the nearest and dearest. Our Lord gives maximum emphasis to the division by repeating each person being ‘divided’ against the other. This is a very sombre prediction and conveys a note of the unthinkable which gives some indication of the spiritual strength a person will need to persevere in His service. But even this, suffered for Christ’s sake, will help usher in God’s Kingdom. This may be the special contribution to God’s Kingdom which we are asked to make.
This is a difficult passage for us until we begin to see the end result Our Lord is working towards. Then we shall see that it is about His suffering more than ours, and how we can bear our share of the burden with and for Him.
Jesus will not allow anyone to be carried away by misleading fantasies of what He is or will do! He tells us honestly what discipleship will demand. But in the process we catch a glimpse of the inner life of the Lord. His opening words are a cry of anguish from of His soul — not because of the pain He must bear to obey His Father, but rather the anguish He suffers on behalf of others until His saving work is completed.
He is surrounded by hatred and enmity and these make Him even more impatient to establish the reign of love. Meanwhile, those who enter His kingdom will find peace and friendship with God but the free will humans enjoy will cause division and conflict, which must be quietly encountered and suffered for God’s glory.
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Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature
(Mark 16: 15)
Let us remember God’s Teaching, contained in His Word and in doing so,
Fire and Division
Ordinary 20 Year C St. Luke 12: 49 — 53
1. Our Lord took great care, when He had something to say which He knew
2. In an age when a teacher had no audio-visual teaching resources, a rabbi
Our Lord’s teaching is that we should be praying for Him to carry out His
3. Some things, the Lord discloses, we will find hard to cope with — such as
It is our belief as followers of Jesus Messiah, that patient endurance and
Let us pray earnestly for one another that we will hold fast to the precious
John 12: 49 to 53
Ordinary 20 Year C
49 10 “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were
50 11 There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how
51 Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?
52 From now on a household of five will be divided, three against
53 a father will be divided against his son and a son against his
10 [49-53] Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom is a refining and purifying fire. His message that meets with acceptance or rejection will be a source of conflict and dissension even within families.
11  Baptism: i.e., his death.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible,