49 “I came to cast fire upon the earth. How I wish that it was already ablaze! 50 I have a baptism I must experience. How I am distressed until it’s completed!
51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, I have come instead to bring division. –Luke 12:49-51
What happened to our sweet little baby Jesus – the peacemaker? This is one of those tough texts that we don’t really like very much – Jesus came to bring division!? Division is a troubling word, and as it happens, divisive talk and actions from Jesus or about Jesus crop up all over the gospels. Consider just a couple of examples (from homiletics magazine):
- When John the Baptist was announcing Jesus’ coming, he said, “His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Luke 3:17).
- In the early days of Jesus’ ministry, when he visited the Nazareth synagogue with his reputation as a preacher and healer preceding him, the congregation initially “spoke well of him” (Luke 4:22). But Jesus wasn’t content to leave it at that, and intentionally provoked them with his “hometown” comments to the point that they wanted to dispatch him over a cliff (Luke 4:16-30).
- When Jesus spoke to a crowd at the festival of booths in Jerusalem “there was a division in the crowd because of him” (John 7:43).
- And – In elaborating on these “I have come to bring … division” comments in today’s reading, Jesus talks about setting father against son, mother against daughter, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and vice versa.
Now – it’s easy for us to ignore these texts we don’t like, and it’s easy to write ourselves out of these biblical examples. We’re not part of Israel. We’re not still looking for a messiah. Nor do we expect peace of the kind that comes from living within secure borders. In fact, since 9/11, the violence from “homegrown” terrorists, and this year of Covid Chaos – many of us have released the fantasy of that kind of peace.
Nonetheless, Jesus’ call today still has a divisive element to it.
- He still calls us to divide ourselves from (or maybe it is create space between) those who urge us to morally stray.
- He still calls us to not put family loyalty above doing his will…
- He still calls us to not believe or follow those who act as if peace and happiness lies in possessions…
- He still calls us to stand against societal voices that build up the self at the expense of others.
Oddly, and in juxtaposition with this lesson, Jesus does promise that following him results in a “kind-of-peace”. You know this beautiful promise from the Gospel of John – “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
Yet followers of Jesus then and now – didn’t and don’t live very peaceful lives. The apostles were hounded for their preaching and then martyred. Paul was beaten, arrested, stoned and finally executed. And today, we go through painful, upsetting times that are anything but peaceful.
So… clearly the peace of God has to mean something other than the absence of struggle and discord, something other than what we can acquire because we have the wherewithal to live a comfortable existence. Maybe then – the peace of God that Jesus promises is more of an inside job: a magnetic center of calm to which return in the midst of or after turmoil; an anchor that keeps us from being swept away in the storms of life. Frederick Buechner observed that “for Jesus peace seems to have meant not the absence of struggle, but the presence of love.”
So how do we hold both divisiveness and the peace which passes all understanding?
- Jesus did not come so that we could have a happy family life — though the peace of God certainly could contribute to that.
- Jesus did not come so that we could get along with our siblings — though the peace of God certainly would help us live with the conflict or enable us to make the first move toward reconciliation.
- Jesus did not come so that we could get along with our coworkers and neighbors, though the peace of God will help us stay afloat during the discord.
The truth is
- The peace of God not an alternative to making hard decisions and setting moral priorities that might bring divisions even among families and close friends.
- Nor is the peace of God an anesthetic that makes one numb to the conflicts of the world; in fact, it will sharpen your response to those conflicts and injustices
Beloved, here is where peace and division hold together – Jesus did come to call us to follow him; through the turmoil, through the conflicts, through the differences, and through the divisions. And depending on the circumstances of our lives, it could be a very divisive call, that promises no peace at all … except the peace of God.
As one theologian observed – Jesus contemplates the cross he will endure in God’s service, he is not peaceful (nor should we be). For the road to God’s peace is not a detour around the cross but goes through it. And – Jesus wants us to make the tough choices that may divide us from those who choose differently.
As you consider the images offered here in this meditative ART Circle Video, and your own journey through Lent – take this simple question with you…
From what does Jesus want me to separate?