15 August 2010Luke 12:49-56
"You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?" (v.56)
This passage does not sit well with the gentle and peaceable
Jesus of popular imagination. While there is much in the teaching
of Jesus and the stories in the Gospels about him that is
compassionate and reassuring, his words here point to the
disturbing impact of his mission and reveal his sense of
impatience, foreboding and frustration.
Jesus intends his teaching to purify and destroy like fire. Even close relatives will be sharply divided in their response to it. But it is not happening! People listen but his words are not getting home. They do not share his sense of urgency.
So the passage ends with the complaint that people can forecast the weather but are incapable of understanding the times they are living in. "Hypocrite" here, as often in the Gospels, means not someone who is consciously putting on an act, but simply someone whose intelligent response to the demands of everyday life contrasts with their failure to respond to the deeper realities of life.
Baptism - immersion in water - is used metaphorically in verse 50 for a testing and potentially fatal experience which Jesus expects to undergo as a result of his work. He does not expect confronting his contemporaries, as he does here, to leave him unscathed. Whether or not at this stage he anticipated actual crucifixion, with hindsight we immediately think of it as the fulfilment of his words.
This week's theme is 'A Renewing God'. Today's passage provokes reflection on how renewal comes about. What is old and discredited must be cleared away. What resists reform has to be overcome. Change can be painful. It is easier not to be disturbed!
Sometimes change is vigorously resisted. Renewal can be costly for those who seek to bring it about as well as for those challenged to take sides with them. But the need for it may be urgent.
Why do you think Jesus felt his work was urgent?
Where is renewal needed today, and at what cost?
How can we read the signs of the times today?