Seeing the world through a theological lens...
Luke 14:1-5 On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, “Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?” But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. Then he said to them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?” And they could not reply to this.
Today I am taking us inside a healing story for a closer look- as we go, try to imagine yourself as one of the people in the room. What do you see? Where are you in the story? Where is God in the story? What might God be trying to speak to you through this story?
The Pharisees had been watching Jesus carefully- tying to find a reason to call him a fraud. He had challenged their interpretation of scripture, their misuse of the law, and their exclusionary practices. He was a charismatic personality with a national following. So they invited him to dinner- in fact the Greek word that the text uses implies that the reason they had invited him to dinner was to test him.
In other words, this was no mere invitation to a meal. Jesus was being set up so the Pharisees could catch him breaking the law; if they could prove him a fraud to the people, they could discredit his authority.
The leader of the Pharisees house is full of prominent people; a black tie affair, and everyone is gathering just outside the formal dining room and buzzing about in their tuxes. Servers- also dressed in black and white- bearing trays of champagne and hors d'oeuvres are hardly noticeable. Guests chat about politics and health care and the pros and cons of immigration reform- Jesus is mingling and nibbling from the shrimp cocktail tower, but can't resist taking a piece of bacon-wrapped salmon off of a passing tray. He thanks the server and pops it in his mouth. And as he pulls the toothpick from his lips, a man with "dropsy" steps into his view.
Now, we don’t use the term "dropsy" anymore…, we use 'edema'- a medical condition that, for any number of reasons from congestive heart failure to kidney disease, gathers fluid in the arms and legs. The limbs swell to great proportion; it's very painful, and it rarely goes away, especially under first century medical practices.
Because of his disease the man was an outcast. He was unclean. We've used that word before, but it's important to understand why. In the time of Jesus, (and before) there was a belief that if someone was sick, or disfigured, or had some tragedy strike their family, it was a punishment from God for sin. The thinking was that the in-firmed person must have done something to have incurred this type of suffering... (That sounds ridiculous to us, except the headlines this morning talk about the church of the shooter of the 8 people in Georgia- the church said it was because of the man's sin that he committed that horrific crime.)
The thinking here is that the sick man was in sin; he must have done something that led to this disease, so others needed to keep themselves away from him; first, so they would not fall into the same type of situation that caused God to punish this person.
Second, in order to keep pure. Touching an unclean person meant that the devout Jew would need to go through a lengthy cleansing ritual in order to be restored to community, and who needs that? It's easier to not go near them in the first place.
Because of his condition, the man with dropsy couldn’t work; he wasn't welcome at the temple, wasn't welcomed or even thought of as part of the community... and he wasn't invited to dinner parties at all, much less this party. So what was he doing here at the leader of the Pharisees house?
Like I said, the man with dropsy was probably a plant... he was part of the set up.
According to Jewish law, there was to be no work, including healing, performed on the Sabbath. Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy.
But the Pharisees knew that while Jesus couldn’t stand to see someone suffer, he also knew the law. Would Jesus go so far as to break one of the ten commandments in front of them?
Jesus of course, is aware of the set up. All eyes are on him- and he knows it. So, he puts the toothpick in his pocket for later, and looks straight into the man’s eyes. No one in the room breathes…
Now Jesus could have just healed the man and been done with it- but instead, he wants the Pharisees to think- to do some theological reflection on the situation.
(I love that Jesus does that. Jesus never does anything with a spirit of “look how stupid you are and you guys are so messed up because you got this part wrong.” That is not the manner of Jesus.)
Jesus has the man with dropsy in an eye lock; but then Jesus looks from the man’s eyes, around the room at those wanting to test him, and his heart aches for them because they don’t understand. He sees their struggle… their desire to be right… their desire to keep God’s laws holy as they understand them- mixed with their desire to be powerful in their own world. So, instead of callously calling them out, he asks them a question- one that will show them the nature of God. “You are all keepers of the law," Jesus says… "Is it against the law to heal someone on the Sabbath or not?”
No one moves a muscle…
So Jesus continues… “Most of us in this room are rabbis- we have wives and children… so let me ask you… if one of your children falls into a well on the Sabbath, or better yet, if one of your animals falls into a well on the Sabbath, what would you do? Would you leave them there, or would you go over and pull him to safety?“
And people around the room start fidgeting, and loosening collars and letting out small concert hall type coughs, and not only did they not answer, they couldn’t answer. The Pharisees had nothing to say because all of a sudden, the law, that a moment ago was black and white, was turning grey before their eyes. Jesus had forced them to look at what they thought was a hard and fast rule, and to see it differently, through the lens of compassion… from the perspective of love…from the standpoint of practical hands on ministry. Who would leave a loved one suffering at the bottom of a well?
And Jesus waits no longer for interpretation or the law… its time to do ministry… and without another word, he reaches down into that well, puts his arms around the man with dropsy, and pulls him out… he heals him. And everyone in the room stares with open mouths, as the man skips out the front door, laughing and crying at the same time to celebrate a brand new life.
Now answer those questions again. What did you see? Where were you in the story? Where was God in the story? What might God be trying to speak to you through this story?
Scripture gives us a wonderful opportunity to learn about the nature of God, and about our own nature. Take the time to meditate today... to reflect on God's great love for you.
Luke 1:32-35 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
Have you ever been told you're in danger? It could be that someone was actually trying to kill you as in Jesus's case, or it could have been a number of other threats to your existence. Perhaps you heard you were going to lose your job/income. Maybe you got news that the rent is going up beyond what you can pay. A dire diagnosis, for you or a loved one, news of an accident, impending national disaster, or even a pandemic... there are a myriad of things that upon hearing about them, rattles your world.
How we respond to that news is dependent on three things; our personality, our life experience, and our faith/belief system. Jesus hears the news that Pilate is out to kill him, and told 'Run, Jesus, Run... ala Forest Gump) and Jesus responds from his personality, which contains sarcasm: Tell that fox for me... Jesus responds from his life experience, which tells him life is short, make the most of every day because we are both fragile and finite: I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. And Jesus responds from his faith which informs his make the most of every day attitude, that God has a plan for his life that no one can stop, and that he will work toward the fulfillment of Gods plan as long as he has breath: today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’
Jesus responds as if Pilate is a bully on the playground (I don't sweat you...) but those of us who have felt the sting of those kind of threats wonder if, on the inside, Jesus felt fear like the rest of us. We wonder if a wave of 'what ifs' washed over him as he contemplated the tenuous divide between life and death. Perhaps he was 'rattled' as human beings tend to be when faced with our own mortality.
But his insouciant response was not at all reflective of his call to save. The very next thing Jesus does is lament... mourn... grieve, over Jerusalem. He weeps like a parent for a wayward child. You know that feeling, don't you? When your child, or anyone who means the world to you continually makes choices that take them down the wrong path? And no matter how hard you try to redirect, turn, and teach, your voice falls on deaf ears. You realize deep in the pit of your stomach where the pain resides, that if they don't change course, they are going to self destruct. Your wish is that you could go and scoop them up, coop them up, keep them safe, warm, filled, happy...
Jesus leaves them to their own "house." But he does not leave them orphaned. He does not leave them with disgust, or even with condemnation. Jesus instead, leaves them with hope. Note: Jesus never leaves us without hope.
His limited time on earth will not be long enough to see Jerusalem repent, turn, see things differently. But he has left them the plan. He has given them the blueprints for a new structure, a design for a more peaceful, loving house, and has set workers in motion to begin building, even now.
Hope... That Jerusalem will embrace love. That we will be healed. That the child will come home.
Blessed Is the one who comes In the name of the Lord.
Luke 13:22-30 Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then in reply he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!’ There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
One of my favorite places to eat when I lived in Central Jersey was the Manville Diner. Manville is a small, 2x2 sq. mile mostly blue-collar town. Though it's divided into sections, the whole town is really one neighborhood. In the 80's the factory closed leaving over half the town out of work. It's built between 2 rivers so flooding is a huge problem. Railroad tracks run through the center of town causing traffic back ups. There is a downtown area dotted with small Mom and Pop businesses struggling to exist. It has a handful of schools and still supports its own high school. It was our home for 25 years. It's where we raised our children, where my husband and I worked, and where we made the best friends of our lives.
As for the Manville Diner: It's not flashy. The food is diner fare, and the prices are diner fair. It's small inside and out, and maneuvering to one's seat can sometimes be a challenge. People often stand in the aisle, stopping and lingering at another table to talk to the folks already seated. If you ask them 'politely' to move out of the way, you may or may not be answered with a scowl, a sigh, or a swear word. It's not that they are bad people- on the contrary- the people of Manville are among the finest, most caring, giving, and helpful people I've ever met. They are resilient. They are respectful. They have endured hardship together. They have pulled one another out of flood waters, felt one another's pain, and stood by one another for decades.
If you live in Manville or have ever lived in Manville, you are known as a 'Manvillian.' If you live in Manville or have ever lived in Manville, you are 'known,' period. People know your name. They know where you live and who lived in that house before you did and where those people are now. They know what car you drive. They know what you do for a living. They know your kids and your dog and have no problem calling you out when your kids or your dog gets out of line.
Manville doesn't have the reputation of other larger, more affluent or prestigious towns. They don't care. They don't even want it. What they do have, is the kind of tight knit community that they and their ancestors created; and they live into that community with pride.
They come to the diner as much for the community as they do for a meal. They realize the two are not just intertwined, but integral to each other. So when you're disturbing one or the other of the things they hold dear, yes, you may get a less than 'polite' reaction. It doesn't mean they don't want you there or that you aren't welcome. It means you should know better. It means community comes first. It means connecting with friends and neighbors and delving into the everyday stuff, the small stuff, is the important stuff... the stuff that lasts.
In today's passage Jesus talk about the narrow door- how difficult it is to give up the life, the lure, the look, of wealth and status. To care for people, to make room for the least of these, to stand with the brokenhearted, to support one another in love in a way that people come first- this is the Kingdom of God. Those living for anything other than connection and communion, both with God and other people, are missing out. Getting caught up in keeping what they have, caring for things, cultivating power, the 'first' by the world's standards, lack the true grit and guts of community. No wonder there is weeping and gnashing of teeth for them- they have missed a glorious and God given opportunity to be part of something that really counts... the stuff that lasts.
The people of Manville haven't missed it. It's not that they are problem free, not by a long shot. No place, no people is perfect. But they haven't missed it. Oh, that all should be so gifted.
And again he said, “To what should I compare the kingdom of God?
It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
Jesus has compared the Kingdom of God to a weed, and now to a rising agent. The metaphor is pretty simple to understand. God's people move into the world, living a different kind of life than already exists. Like the weeds in a manicured garden, it will annoy people. Like yeast in a loaf of bread, it will uplift people.
In both scenarios and so many more named in the parables of Jesus, the disciples multiply, and as we do, the world begins to change. What is so different about the way the disciples live that is powerful enough to change the world?
We forgive. We do not resist evil with violence. We live our lives in the interests of others rather than amassing possessions for ourselves. We drop our ego. We let go of nationalism and tribalism. We work diligently and tirelessly toward reconciliation and healing. We are ever willing to sacrifice everything for the cause of God's peace.
Read that list again.
It sounds like it would be Impossible to live out. Yet, deep down we know it to be the only real way to shalom. Jesus came to show us that this way of living is not impossible. This is exactly how he lived his life. The idea that this kind of life is impossible, keeps us from what God has designed for us; chains us to a life of frustration and feelings of futility.
Living as weed-like, yeast-laden disciples is not a self-serving type of Christianity where we get our reward in the end- after this life on earth. It is instead an opportunity to be a part of changing the world; turning it upside down and raising up its people.
Luke 13: 18-19
He said therefore,
“What is the kingdom of God like?
And to what should I compare it?
It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”
Ahh the lowly mustard seed- the smallest of seeds which grows into the largest of "trees."
Actually, it's more like a plant. Well, a bush. Oh, let's be honest, it's a weed.
And yes, we get great little seeds from these weeds that make spicy brown, mild yellow, and dijon, but the weeds are unruly and invasive.
There are global efforts even today, to control the prolific mustard weed, especially the particularly offensive, garlic mustard. (Did you even know there was such a thing? Who else feels like they are missing out on some secret condiment delicacy which sounds like it would be deliciously good on a salami and provolone sandwich?)
Garlic mustard, "introduced from Europe as a food source is now a serious concern in forests across North America... an invasive non-native biennial herb that spreads by seed. ... The fact that it is self fertile means that one plant can occupy a site and produce a seed bank." "The roots exude a chemical that is inhibit other plants from growing, and it can grow in full sun or full shade, making it a threat to a wide variety of our native plants and habitats. Each plant can produce up to 5000 seeds which remain viable in the soil for five years or more."emswcd.org › on-your-land › weeds › weeds-to-know
A parable is kind of like a riddle. We are meant to ponder it, work on it, pray and meditate with it. So instead of me explaining this one in the way God has revealed it to me, I want to leave this one with you to piece together, just as Jesus left it for his hearers.
Here is hint, and a few questions to get you started.
Hint: The wisdom of this parable is in the 'weediness.' The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed...
1. What is the seed of the Kingdom of God, and who 'took and sowed' it?
2. How does the seed of the Kingdom of God spread like a mustard plant? (Each "plant" producing 5000 seeds or more?)
3. What "chemical" might our "roots" exude, and what might that "chemical" stop from growing around us?
4. How might our seeds be fertilized, nurtured, and grown "in sun or shade?"
Why not leave a comment with what God reveals to you? #discipleshipishardwork
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
If you are a regular reader of these Lenten Devotionals and was looking forward to more of our journey through the Gospel of Luke, take heart; we will return to Lukan Lent tomorrow.
Today is a special day in the life of our community of faith. I was reminded yesterday that March 15th marks one year since our church began online streaming. Our Ministry of Visual Arts and Technology (better known as MOVAT... a.k.a. Dave Acosta) composed a beautiful video of the sermon titles from the past year, and included the music from the very first online service. It was wonderful.
For me personally, it was a very moving experience. MOVAT had let me know about the video right before church, and what it contained, so I should have perhaps been better prepared. Yet, seeing each sermon title come up one after another brought up a host of memories and emotions. The naming of a sermon is somewhat like the naming of a child. It's selected during the preparation; before the actual "birth" of the sermon. Seeing the list of names, remembering some of the joys and angst in preparation.
The prayers: "God, what does the congregation need to hear this week? Where is the Spirit moving this week in both the lives of our congregants and in the world? What will encourage people to follow Christ- what will help them see the Christ in Us, and the Christ in others?"
The pangs: How do I remain faithful to the text and culturally and contextually relevant? How does this passage help us get through this difficult time of isolation? Who will receive care and comfort through this sermon? Who might be challenged and even put out by my words? What informs my interpretation of this passage?
The personal: How will I balance care of others with self care and nurture? Am I shepherding the church in a faithful and Godly manner when I'm struggling too? When is the right time to reopen? Will my leadership remain effective when we are not able to be together in person? Can I actually hold it together to see this through?
As each "child's name" came up yesterday, the memories came with them. I found myself reliving the journey. I remembered the feelings, fears, fires, and frenzy of the past year. But I also experienced a sense of gratitude for God's provision and grace. Because for each prayer, God gave an answer. For each pang, God granted balm. For each personal trial, God blessed me with a person(s) who brought comfort, healing, companionship, and presence.
One year later, and as Isolated as we were from one another, we have never been alone. Through the past year we've moved beyond where we thought we would, and grown in ways we didn't know we could. We are not the same congregation one year later. We've been through something that few generations are granted the opportunity to experience. And though it was painful, we are better for it. We've seen God's hand, felt and followed the movement of the Spirit, and held one another in love for a solid year. To each of you who had a part in caring for me, caring for one another, and just caring in general, thank you.
I am so eager for the future, to see what God will do in and through this community of faith.
Peace to you,
Luke 13: 1-5
At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.
Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.
When things go wrong in our lives, it's easy to blame God. We want a way to explain our misfortune, find a cause for our illness, a reason for our loss, as if everything that happens can be explained in a spiritual way. You've heard it more than once, especially in the church: "everything happens for a reason," which then leads to our favorite go-to verse, all things work together for good...
I have a friend who was raised this way, to look for a spiritual meaning in all things. Once while we were in seminary, her son's cat died. The family was heartbroken, but as they were going through the various stages of grief, my friend tried to work out the reason for the death of the cat. Was it perhaps that because the son moved out, that the cat shut down? Had it been to teach them something larger? Was it to bring the family closer together?
As my friend posed these questions to me, all I could think to say was, "Sometimes cats just die." She paused. And then she laughed, "Yes, sometimes cats just die."
Stuff happens. We get sick. Loved ones die. Towers fall. Tyrants like Pilate are cruel. Innocents suffer. Yet the tragedies in our lives leave us scratching our heads; Why? How could they? Did they do something wrong? Did WE?
Jesus asks the disciples to think about these questions: Do you think those whom Pilate slaughtered were somehow better or worse than you are? Or the people killed in the tower accident, did they do something wrong that this accident took their lives?
The answer? No. (Of course it was no. All are equal in God's eyes).
But, says Jesus, you need to see things differently (repent).
Jesus speaks the truth: the world is suffering because of our way of life. He asks us to repent. We embrace violence, and live by trampling on one another, and it needs to stop, and we have it within ourselves to stop it. He asks us to live differently. He asks us to stop the blame-game of trying to find out why another suffered in order to then act in a way to keep ourselves and our loved ones out of harms way.
It's not always the fault of someone or something or even God when calamity befalls us. Sometimes cats just die. But we can embrace a life of non-violence and compassion that holds all, includes all, and cares for all. So when we do finally leave this earth, no one is left wondering what we did wrong, but can experience the legacy of truth and peace we've lived.
Luke 12: 57-59
And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? Thus, when you go with your accuser before a magistrate, on the way make an effort to settle the case, or you may be dragged before the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer throw you in prison. I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.
What is it about human beings and our reluctance to apologize to one another? And not just us, set-in-our-ways adults. Little children, when they have done something they shouldn't or taken something from another, shy away from a simple, "I'm sorry." Parents often plead and even force their children to approach another child (or adult): "Say sorry!" they demand. "Say it, or you're grounded" (or whatever other suitable consequence/punishment is chosen).
As adults, we often grow Into more the 'don't ask don't tell' model; if we can get away with it, why not go for that, rather than face the person we've wronged and clear the air. But there Is something In us that just doesn't want to admit our mistakes to another.
We may tend to think of this as a problem within modern humans, that perhaps we have too much, or we feel entitled, or we are spoiled, or pampered, or more selfish than those of previous generations. Yet, here is Jesus, 2000+ years ago, talking about the same thing to his disciples. Moreover, long before Jesus walked the earth, Solomon wrote something similar.
Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Proverbs 16:18
Confessing, admitting our wrongdoing to the one we've offended is not easy. We don't want to feel shamed by the other. We don't want to have to feel the flush of embarrassment; and don't relish facing the consequences should someone be unforgiving. Yet, Jesus tells us the fallout will be much worse should we let the situation fester.
Even if we don't get taken to court or tossed into jail, keeping things to ourselves puts us in a different kind of prison, even if only in that relationship. We're never able to be fully ourselves; not able to speak freely and openly. When we've not said "I'm sorry," not tried to work it out, there will always be something between us that isn't right.
It Is that way, even with God. When we are not willling to come before God with honesty and transparency, and admit where we've fallen short of what God has designed us to be... when we've harmed one of God's creatures, or ourselves and are reluctant to name what we've done, we put a wall between us.
A not so small aside: YOU CANNOT CAUSE GOD TO STOP LOVING YOU- God does not put up a wall- we do it- God desires openness and will meet your confession with forgiveness and love- the air will be clear because on God's side, it's always clear.
Kin-dom living Is about healing and reconciliation. Our reluctance to do our part in the hard work of relationships keeps us separated from one another, as individuals, as people groups, as nations. It is not the weak who admit to their wrongs. It is those strong and courageous enough to step out in confession; those willing to make reparations, make amends, and move on to real relationship.
Praying for all of us as we work toward relationship and forgiveness...
Luke 12: 54-56
He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?
We're not aware of the water in which we swim. We move about each day in our lives of plenty and prosperity, and seldom wonder about the cost to others, to the planet, to ourselves, and the impact that our way of life will have on future generations. We are very much a "now" centered people.
I'm not beating us up. We've been socialized to live this way. It's what we know. And billions of dollars are spent each day to keep us this way... unaware... thinking for ourselves and about ourselves; how to fix ourselves, or comfort ourselves, or plan for ourselves, or protect ourselves.
I don't believe Jesus was berating the disciples as much as he was entreating them to wake up to the truth about living this way. He's asking them to read the times; to look beyond themselves and their own interests. (Or in the words of Paul: Look not to your own interest but to the interests of others- Phil. 2:4)
We're so very good at looking at the sky and predicting the weather, says Jesus, but we can't seem to recognize the writing on the wall it when it really counts.
We, as disciples of Christ, are to be about the business of the Kin-dom of God; to help usher in the new era of peace, shalom. The way in which that happens is each of us helping the other to see what's happening around us. To recognize what lay beneath the surface of our emphasis on "self care." To read the signs of a world that, without care, will face a dark future.
Jesus loves and cares for us. He's given us all we need to help create a better world for us, and for the future. His confidence in us to accomplish this task is astounding! His encouragement is unceasing! Over and over he reminds us of our value and of God's great love for us. It is a foundational truth each of us must accept in order to take part in this fantastic plan for restoration and renewal. Oh that we could only see it ourselves!
Luke 12: 49-53
“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, 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 her daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
In a world already so greatly divided and polarized, why, oh why would Jesus say that he came to split even families apart? Isn't there enough disharmony already? What happened to being agents of peace? What is all this about bringing fire to the earth?
Jesus has seen the earth. He has seen the state of the world. He knows the polarization that existed then and that we still experience today. He's seen the poverty and oppression, the greed and violence. He's seen egos played out; security of oneself and one's family and one's belongings and one's nation as top priorities. We work hardest for our own. Defend our own. Forgive our own. Empower our own.
It's the way we do life. We want and work for the good things in life- for our own. The cost to others is, if not entirely overlooked, is of little concern to us. We know that by having some of the things we have, it harms others, even children, yet we swallow down that twinge of guilt with whatever self medication we can get our hands on.
Jesus came to give us a new way of being, a new way of living- for others. Jesus teaches that "others" are just as important as we are. That their families, their belongings and their nation are just as worth working for and defending as our own. That we are to empower, AND forgive, not just our own, but others.
It is the fire of which Jesus speaks. Using images of fire, and sword, and speaking of division, Jesus plays out for his disciples (did you remember that Jesus is speaking to his disciples?) what the process of healing will feel like; it will be painful. He's talking about breaking down every system (corrupt or not) that we have! Actually, he's talking about dismantling every institution and ideology we embrace as a people; down to the institution of the family unit.
The new way of Jesus means that your children become ours, that your parents are ours, and that we become as one family/people. That we forgive, even the ones who hurt our family members. That we support and nurture the poor and give them every "advantage" we have; and that what we need/want/have will not come at anyone's expense. That no one remains "disadvantaged." It sounds both wonderful and very scary at the same time, doesn't it?
If you are having trouble envisioning what such a world would look like, and can not picture this kind of a caring/sharing world; if you have trouble thinking about your 'enemies' child as your own, or that you are somehow responsible for the least of these, you are not alone. It's a completely new way of seeing one another and seeing the world. It will not (has not) been easily accepted or implemented. It will cause division. It will cause us to sacrifice greatly. It will hurt.
Jesus calls us to discipleship to bring about a new world of God's shalom. The good news is that it is within our grasp, should we be willing to follow. Don't be afraid little flock, for it is God's great pleasure to give you the Kin-dom.