Peace be with you!
There is no doubt that our actions affect people around us. When a gentleman holds a door open for me, my smile gets bigger; but if someone walks through a door and lets it close on me, I become bitter for a while. You act out what you believe in – volunteering at the soup kitchen; helping children learn how to read after school; being a Big Brother or Big Sister to a child without a good role model at home; listening to the stories of the disabled, sick, and others; praying before a meal in public; giving up your seat on the bus for an elderly person; and [whatever “it” is] you do without thinking. Your actions speak volumes about what kind of a person you are.
Jesus is under a lot of stress as he continues to travel to Jerusalem where he knows he will be persecuted, whipped, and crucified. And he does this for people who continue to reject his message of the good news? As Christians, we have this image of Jesus being a mild-mannered, sweet, gentle person so when we get to passages like this one we gloss over it. We do not like the stressed out Jesus who is frustrated with us.
When my mom is frustrated with me, she throws up her hands, says “Whatever, Erin; you are going to do what you want,” and walks away. My mom usually knows the bigger picture , but I do not always want to hear it. My mom does the only thing she can do: speak her piece and walk away before she loses her cool.
Jesus walks on earth as a teacher of God’s love, grace, and forgiveness. His students (even his twelve disciples) try his patience, and now Jesus is going to say his message plainly. There will be fire on earth and divisions among families and households (Luke 12:49, 51b). His disciples and others have mistaken the call for change in their relationship with family members and with God for their hopeful peace. You cannot blame the disciples for thinking Jesus’ focus is always peacemaking. After all the new commandment to love one another and the focus on welcoming the stranger means that we will always all get along, right?
Jesus corrects his disciples by stating he will fire into the world (Luke 12:49). God led the Israelites out of Egypt with a pillar of fire (Exodus 13:17-22) and the disciples received the Holy Spirit through tongues of fire (Acts 2:1-4). Fire recalls God’s judgment in Egypt and His purifying of the Israelites in the wilderness for forty years. The Israelites made burnt sacrifices in order to be made pure in God’s eyes. Fire also represents God’s presence in the world as his people experienced it in the pillar of fire and tongues of fire. Like fire, baptism makes us pure in God’s eyes and shows us his presence in the world and in us. Jesus baptizes us with water and invites us into a relationship with God the Father. However, baptism also points to the cross, where Jesus is heading to offer himself as a sacrifice for our sins.
His disciples and followers have mistaken Jesus as a peacemaker when he is causing divisions among family members and household members (Luke 12:51b-53). The division changes our relationships with one another and with God. Jesus challenges how individuals interact with one another. A young Jewish man may accept Jesus’ call to welcome the Gentiles into the fold, while an elder may not accept his teaching and not allow his son to go listen to his speeches. We have seen this happen during civil rights movements in the United States. Martin Luther King, Jr. dedicated his career to the desegregation civil rights movement and met resistance in the south where there were Jim Crow Laws. Any kind of change tends to meet resistance, and Jesus is not talking about a yearly event where Jews and Gentiles share a meal but a daily occurrence. Like Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesus is calling his listeners to change how Jews and Gentiles interact with each other.
Where God is involved, what matters changes. Being followers of Jesus Christ causes us to be blind to heritage differences: divisions between Jews, Gentiles, and Samaritans no longer matter. God uses us to carry out his plan. When we do not act as he asks us, his plan is stalled. God asks us to love our neighbors; when we refuse to love those we meet, we put ourselves before him. Jesus did not say loving our neighbors would be easy; he admits it will cause trouble within our own families and communities. Loving the poor, the homeless, the sick, the lonely, and unbelievers will cause us anguish and pain. People will call us crazy; our lives will be threatened; those we love will disown us. But when we act against God’s plan, we don’t get to be part of his work in the world. We are his agents in the world to carry out his plans. Our lack of compassion limits God because we are in the world to share his grace, love, and forgiveness with everyone we meet
Jesus expresses his frustration with us for not accepting the time for him to return to God the Father (Luke 12:54-56). We do not take his message seriously. Jesus is heading to the cross, and we have not yet fully accepted the good news; he is going to die on the cross for our sins and offer us forgiveness, and we do not follow his example; he will come back to judge the living and the dead, and we keep the good news to ourselves. Jesus exclaims, “Wake up, people! The time has come. I am going back to the Father so you can be in a relationship with him and join us in his Kingdom. Wake up, people! God the Father is near!
Thanks be to God!
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for setting a fire under us to go into the world and share the good news. Help us to be faithful agents of your work in the world. Give us the courage to offer your forgiveness to others. Humble our hearts as we care for others. Thank you for Jesus’ example of humanity. Amen.
Thanks to the Triune God – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
Please answer the following reflective questions in the comments below. Please agree to disagree and be respectful to each other. (If you have not already done so, please also take a moment, to sign the comment covenant located here.) You can answer as many questions as you would like.
1. How do your actions reflect your identity as a Christian?
2. What divisions do you experience?
3. How are you changed by the God’s involvement in the world?