Luke 12: 49 – 53 Not peace but division
‘I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, 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 daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’
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These are violent and disruptive images. What is the Prince of Peace talking about?
The baptism Jesus speaks of is his crucifixion. He knows that the time is close, and he knows, too, how much he still has to do.
It is this baptism that will enable the Holy Spirit to dwell in those who believe in Jesus. It was necessary for Jesus to die on the cross and be raised from the dead in order for the Holy Spirit to be sent. It is the Holy Spirit who binds the followers of Jesus into his body, the church. We see this when the Holy Spirit came down on the early church like tongues of fire. (Acts 2: 1 – 4).
‘When Jesus says ‘I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!’ he is expressing his longing for his followers to receive the Holy Spirit.
However, what will be the result? Many will be converted and follow Jesus, but many will not. The calling to follow Jesus requires complete commitment. Our love for family and friends may be very strong but we are called to love Jesus even more.
As followers of Jesus we are called to love our neighbours as ourselves. The bible teaches us that we must try hard to live at peace with all men.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:18)
But the life we are called to live as followers of Jesus challenges the wisdom of the world. Other people, even family members, are going to disagree with us and oppose us. In some cases, such opposition may be violent; imagine, for example, the reaction of a Muslim family if one of them converts to Christianity.
So when Jesus says ‘Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division’ he doesn’t mean that he wants to cause violence or discord, but that the response to the message he brings will polarise people.
The tension between the message of Jesus and the desirability of peace is summed up nicely in this quotation from the Sacred Space website
“Conformity and harmony are never to be imposed or sought for themselves. They are not a mould into which life is to be forced. When life is properly arranged, they will be the result.”
Please help me to be a peacemaker. But please also help me to take your message with the utmost seriousness.
In Jesus’ name, Amen