‘Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?
No, I tell you, but rather division!’
This sounds such strange language from Jesus. Isn’t Jesus about giving us freedom from our sins; about giving us peace; that deep peace with God, which leads to real peace with people?
Why would there be any division, any hostility?
As Jesus speaks, he speaks in the shadow of the Cross. He is keen to get on with the baptism with which he has to be baptised, and that baptism is his death for our sins, his painful death on the cross.
The cross challenges people in two ways, particularly:
First, the cross is an extraordinary way for God to intervene in the world. Why should it be necessary for God to make this sacrifice of his son? Like Abraham is asked of God to sacrifice Isaac? It seems so brutal so cruel…..and then when we discover that the reason that this is necessary is so that the penalty for our sins is paid, yes ‘our’ sins that’s your sins and my sins, it can seem barbaric that someone else should suffer in pain for what we have done.
But this just shows how serious the situation is…..and this causes division because there are loads of people out there who don’t see themselves as sinners at all ‘Oh I am not so bad’ they think ‘who are you calling a sinner anyway’ ‘what I do/say/think isn’t sin….’ in any case, ..I am not as bad as Hitler or my neighbour……’
Jesus needed to go to the cross just for each of us: for you and for me, even if we had been the only other people ever on earth. Our sins are that serious.
So first, even the suggestion that we are sinners is divisive.
Second, Jesus calls us to take up our own cross and follow him (Luke 9:23).
Taking up the cross means putting down the idolatry of contemporary life, the things that we find so attractive (whether material or not), no longer giving those things the priority in our lives and following the path that Christ has laid out for us: of loving God, loving neighbour and making disciples and living out the consequences of walking this path in our daily lives.
When people do not rise to this challenge they often become critical of those who do: the man who gives of his time and money is referred to as someone who is ‘loaded’ or ‘retired’, so as to distinguish him from the person who feels challenged, even though they may actually be just as rich…and have just as much time, but just give priority to other things they think are more important.
The person who is so filled with the love of God that she cannot wait to tell everyone about it is spoken of as a ‘fundamentalist’ or as ‘happy-clappy’, because she doesn’t keep her faith within bounds which are respectable in upper and middle class Hampshire.
So division is inevitable, when Jesus steps onto the stage, when we truly accept his call.
But that doesn’t mean that we have to be divisive.
Paul writes in Romans 18 ‘If it is possible, as far as it depends upon you, live at peace with everyone’.
When division comes, through taking up our cross, the division must be caused by others not by us, but we should not be surprised if it does come…..because we need to be able to read the signs of the times, we need to understand that we are in a world, which is broken amongst people who are hurt and damaged and who will be angry with us as we try to follow the Way.
But we should know that the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, will be there at our side, guiding us in what to say and how to respond
49 “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52 From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 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.”
Interpreting the Time
54 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. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. 56 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?
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Lk 12:49–56). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.