"I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am till it is accomplished! Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division. For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. Father will be divided 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 her mother-in-law."
Then He also said to the multitudes, "Whenever you see a cloud rising out of the west, immediately you say, 'A shower is coming'; and so it is. And when you see the south wind blow, you say, 'There will be hot weather'; and there is. Hypocrites! You can discern the face of the sky and of the earth, but how is it you do not discern this time?
"Yes, and why, even of yourselves, do you not judge what is right? When you go with your adversary to the magistrate, make every effort along the way to settle with him, lest he drag you to the judge, the judge deliver you to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. I tell you, you shall not depart from there till you have paid the very last mite."
- Luke 12:49-59
On Saturday, we read that Jesus taught His disciples, "Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning; and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them. And if he should come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect." Then Peter said to Him, "Lord, do You speak this parable only to us, or to all people?" And the Lord said, "Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his master will make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all that he has. But if that servant says in his heart, 'My master is delaying his coming,' and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and be drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers. And that servant who knew his master's will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more."
"I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!" My study bible says that fire here references the proclamation of the gospel and the gift of the Holy Spirit. It notes that this fire both enlivens the faithful and judges the faithless; it purifies virtue and destroys sin (see 3:16; 1 Corinthians 3:12-15).
"But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am till it is accomplished!" Baptism is a process of death and rebirth; here Jesus is referring to His Passion. My study bible writes that His death is baptism, for He was completely immersed in it, yet it cleansed the world. See also Romans 6:3-6.
"Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division. For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. Father will be divided 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 her mother-in-law." My study bible says that there are two kinds of peace. One is a false peace, to which Christ refers here. That's a shallow sort of harmony that results from ignoring issues of truth. A true peace is reconciliation to God through faith in Christ and surrender to truth. Genuine peace, says my study bible, has division as a byproduct -- not everyone wants truth. In the fallen world, divisions are necessary for truth to be manifest (see 1 Corinthians 11:18-19). Christ emphasizes how truly personal these divisions can be, the truth manifesting and doing its work in the most intimate parts of ourselves and our lives, before all other relationships (see also Hebrews 4:12). My study bible also notes that the divisions Christ notes here fulfills the prophecy of Micah 7:6. Its literal meaning has been experienced in the Church since the time of Christ. But also, an older generation being divided from the younger can symbolize (1) the rejection of the new covenant by followers of the old, and (2) the spiritual struggle between our old, sinful state and our renewal in Christ (see Ephesians 4:20-24).
Then He also said to the multitudes, "Whenever you see a cloud rising out of the west, immediately you say, 'A shower is coming'; and so it is. And when you see the south wind blow, you say, 'There will be hot weather'; and there is. Hypocrites! You can discern the face of the sky and of the earth, but how is it you do not discern this time?" This time is the revelation of the Kingdom of God in the coming of Jesus Christ, the Incarnation of God present in our world, the Messiah. This time is also the signaling of the beginning of Judgment, to be culminated in His return.
"Yes, and why, even of yourselves, do you not judge what is right? When you go with your adversary to the magistrate, make every effort along the way to settle with him, lest he drag you to the judge, the judge deliver you to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. I tell you, you shall not depart from there till you have paid the very last mite." My study bible says that just as a guilty person would attempt to reconcile with his opponent before facing an earthly judge, so even more should one be reconciled to God in Christ before facing His dread judgment.
The truth is a powerful judge. Perhaps this Truth should be put in capital letters, because we're speaking of spiritual truth -- the truth that comes from Christ, from a holy life or one led in pleasing God. We live in a world of supposedly competing truths, where there are many belief systems and opposing "absolutes" we may hear or listen to. But the spiritual truth of Christ is at its depth about a living truth in this world, and about the work of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit that gives life to Jesus' word, so that what we read and hear is the "living word," not a set of dead letters nor a legalistic document that merely sets down rules for us to follow in a manner without Christ's active love and mercy. We note the words used here: "active" and "living." This truth is that born of faith, of an active relationship to Christ: a loving and prayerful way of living in the world and seeking to be His light reflected into the world. That is, learning to practice His truth and His love and His mercy -- meeting life, we could say, in an actively prayerful manner. The truth of God in this sense is always going to be at work within us, refining our intentions, giving us a better window and understanding of our own thoughts, exposing the "plank in our own eye." Even a depth of love for Christ is going to be a source of potential conflict, a way of being in the world that is at odds with the people we are closest to, or belief or value systems which even we may hold dear. But truth calls us in a way that has to do with Christ's Incarnation and with the ultimate Judgment that comes with His return. Truth is also about witnessing. The word "martyr" means witness in the Greek. This isn't so much about witnessing to the world or those around us as it is tied up with the ultimate spiritual judgment that Christ alludes to in today's reading. What do we live for? Do we honor this truth that we find in prayer and in faith, in an active life of spiritual hope? A life lived this way is all about witnessing, and in so doing we are also going to encounter the response of the world to that truth. This is part of the struggle of faith. Ultimately there is something in our hearts that kindles a love and loyalty to the living Word, to the work of Christ -- or does not. We may encounter a struggle with the world within our own hearts: opposing ideas of what is good or proper will create struggle and ask us for choice (such as the man who asked to go home and bury his father before taking on the work of discipleship; see Luke 9:57-62). Ultimately, Christ is telling us, His Incarnation means that we have a choice, that within the moments of our lives are opportunities for choice. A deep and burning desire for truth, a love of truth, forms and shapes choice. Jesus tells us, "I am the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6). He leaves us teaching about the Spirit of Truth that will guide us (John 16:13). Among the many certainties people may insist there are in life, there is this one central thing of the heart: trying to fulfill and to live the love of Christ as He instructs us to do (John 13:34). To meet a world full of confusion, conflict, evil, and greed of all forms, we seek that place of peace from which we take our spiritual truth, a union in the heart with His love. And that will be our Judgment. We mustn't forget this is active and alive, living -- the fire of the Spirit in the world and His Kingdom that lives within us and among us. Moreover, His "baptism" of Crucifixion tells us that His Incarnation is about Judgment: the Judgment of the Lord of the universe, God of all creation and everything that is, Who knows what it is to be a suffering creature, a victim of injustice, One who dies even in sacrifice for others. What this assures us of is that His truth, His love, and His Judgment are all about witnessing against that which oppresses and harms and enslaves. The evil that causes pain is the enemy (in Greek, poneros, the word for evil or evil one, has as its root the word for pain). We are all a part of that plan, witnesses for His way, when we live His truth and meet the world in it.