18 August 2013

Luke 12:49-56

“Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” (v. 51)


These are tough and puzzling sayings! We expect to find Jesus bringing people together and creating reconciliation. Instead, we find him talking about division within and between families. What can we make of it? First, we can notice that Jesus speaks with the passion and urgency of a prophet. God's kingdom is an unstoppable and transforming reality. And Jesus uses two words - "fire" (v. 49) and "baptism" (v. 50) to bring that urgency home. Fire purifies, it expresses judgement and it symbolises the transforming Spirit of God. Baptism, as Jesus presents it here, is an act of total commitment, a giving up of the self to a costly way of service. Popularly understood, Baptism has the flavour of 'welcome to the family'. But, from the point of view that Jesus is expressing, Baptism may mean leaving the family into which we've been born and joining the new family of his disciples. In fact, in the early Church, that is often what happened. Having a child who decided to become a baptized Christian could be a parent's worst nightmare and lead to complete estrangement. And in some situations the same is true today.

Why does Jesus speak with such urgency? Because the time for the kingdom of God is now. The Greek word for time, 'kairos',does not suggest a particular date or time of day (that would be 'chronos' from which we get the English 'chronology'), but the apt and urgent moment for action. How, asks Jesus, can you read the signs that indicate a change in the weather, but be blind to the changes that God is bringing to the world here and now. Christians in apartheidSouth Africa and in hard-pressed Palestinian communities have published kairos documents with urgent pleas for timely action. They argue that if we read 'the signs of the times' we will become aware of what God is doing - and what we must do if we are to be true to God's kingdom in a time of crisis.

To Ponder

  • What are your feelings as you read these words of Jesus? What do you find most difficult or offensive?
  • Which of your settled relationships might come under pressure if you took the words of Jesus with complete seriousness?
  • What are the kairos issues in your situation - issues that require urgent action on behalf of the kingdom of God? 

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Richard Clutterbuck

Richard Clutterbuck is a minister of the Methodist Church in Britain but since 2004 has served the Irish Methodist Church as principal of Edgehill Theological College in Belfast. His ministry has been divided between pastoral appointments in North London and theological education in the South Pacific (Tonga), Britain and Ireland.