‘I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on, five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they 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.’
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. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, “There will be scorching heat”; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?
‘And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? Thus, when you go with your accuser before a magistrate, on the way make an effort to settle the case, or you may be dragged before the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer throw you in prison. I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.’ (NRSV).
The first words out of the resurrected Jesus’ mouth were ‘Peace be with you.’
But here, as Jesus moves closer to the cross, we have the Messiah insisting that his disciples expect division: ‘Do you think I have come to bring peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!’
Our reading appears to be a continuation of Jesus’ answer to Peter’s inquiry regarding the parable about watchful slaves. The disciple seeks clarification as to whom it is addressed: ‘Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?’ (12:41).
Jesus’ answer points to the privileged position that has been given to these twelve: ‘From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded’ (12:48).
It would seem that Luke intends the opening of our passage to sit within a larger context. Here Jesus deals with the perspective and responsibility of the disciples. Much is required of those who have had the honor of following the Messiah so closely.
And now they are trusted with even more: an inside knowledge of what the crucifixion of Jesus will be like. It will bring ‘fire’, ‘division’. Families will be set ‘against’ each other.
Even Jesus is feeling the heat: ‘…what stress I am under…’. He may be heading for Jerusalem to forgive, save, and restore. But it will be achieved by a passing through fire. It will cost Jesus. It will also cost others. Jerusalem will be a time of confusion for both the twelve and for the crowds who follow.
They still expect a conqueror. How will they cope with their leader’s suffering and death?
And so Jesus points to the sky. Each of Jesus’ listeners knows that a cloud signifies rain. A southerly prompts them to prepare for a heatwave. Yes, they can see signs.
But it would seem that they are struggling to interpret the very times that are upon them. Jesus poses his probing questions: ‘…why do you not know how to interpret the present time? And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?’
They struggle to grasp what is to come. It leaves them vulnerable. They are unsure as to what is right. As a result they are left at the mercy – the ‘judgment’ – of others.
Our passage is a call to see straight. Jesus is not a comfortable, predictable, easy peace-maker. He is taking the narrow and hard road through a brutal and violent world.
But it is a road that leads somewhere wonderful. So wonderful that he will soon offer the very peace of God.