14 August 2016

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)

Psalm: Psalm 80


These notes are being written in the context of the Northern Ireland 'marching season' and in the aftermath of the divisive referendum on EU membership and the bitterly-fought leadership challenges in political parties. Division seems endemic in public life and Christian leaders tend -understandably - to counter this with appeals for peace and unity. So it comes as a shock to find Jesus announcing that he is a bringer of conflict rather than peace, of division instead of unity.

To understand what is going on, it helps to see this passage within the big picture of the Gospel of Luke's story about Jesus. It devotes the middle ten chapters of his gospel to Jesus' prophetic journey towards Jerusalem. From Luke 9:51, when Jesus 'set his face to go to Jerusalem', to Luke 19:41, when Jesus weeps over the city he is about to enter, there is a growing sense of tension, conflict and menace. The opponents of Jesus - and these are spiritual forces as well as human ones - seem bent on his destruction. The teaching of Jesus suggests that this is a crucial moment in the coming of God's kingdom of justice, and therefore a time when decisions have to be made for or against that kingdom. Religion has to be more than the cement holding society together. For Jesus - and therefore for Christians - it involves a personal choice that may come with a heavy cost. In the early days of Christianity the Church must have seemed a dangerous and divisive organisation, robbing families of compliant sons and daughters.

The climax to this passage comes in verses 54-56. For Jesus, his ministry is God's decisive intervention in the life of a wayward and distorted world. The Greek word 'Kairos'refers to time, not as a particular date and hour (that would be 'chronos', from which we get chronology), but as the right and proper moment. The world, he says, is divided between those who recognise the 'signs of the times' and those who don't.  A number of Christian groups have taken this theme of the Kairos moment as applying to their own context. They include Church leaders in apartheid South Africa and, more recently, Palestinian Christians. Their 'Kairos documents' challenge other Christians to make tough decisions.

To Ponder

  • How does your Christian commitment involve you in conflict and division?
  • What are most important 'signs of the times' in our society - and how should Christians respond to them?

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.