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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Sunday, August 18, 2019           

Today’s Scripture Reading | Luke 12:49–56

“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.”

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? (NRSV)

This passage makes me uncomfortable. It’s part of the Sunday lectionary cycle, so we hear it every three years. Aptly I associate it with hot, sticky, August Sundays. Here it is again.

When a piece of scripture provokes this response, one of the ways I try to stay with it is to look at what surrounds the section, what happens immediately before and just afterwards. In this case the episode just previous presents Jesus teaching about vigilant servants and ends with verse 48: “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” In what comes after verse 56, Jesus presses about judging for ourselves what is right; chapter 13 opens with a call for repentance.

One of the reasons this passages makes me want to put down the Bible and go do something—anything—else is that it cuts pretty close to the bone. This moment of history is one marked by division: intense and ugly ruptures in the social fabric that are frightening. And Jesus is good with that?

I don’t think that Jesus’ ultimate goal is division among the human family. But he insists that divisions be acknowledged and dealt with so that eventually there can be repentance and reconciliation. What anchors me in this belief is that verse about much being required from those who have much. I have much. And if I’m not using what I’ve been given—education, resources, privilege, voice—on behalf of others who don’t have those things, then Jesus is calling me out.

Jesus, who came to make the world right and whole, help me to interpret the times and follow your call. Especially when I would rather not. Amen.

Written by Susan Quaintance, Director, Center for Life and Learning

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