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Friday, August 17, 2007

Lexegete | 12th Sunday After Pentecost

Lexegete ™ | Year C

August 19, 2007 (Lectionary 20)

Complementary Series

Jeremiah 23:23-29
Psalm 82 (Ps. 82:8)
Hebrews 11:29—12:2
Luke 12:49-56

Semicontinuous Series

Isaiah 5:1-7
Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19 (Ps. 80:14)
Hebrews 11:29—12:2
Luke 12:49-56


1a. CONTEXT: Luke 12:49-56

The author of this passage, as perhaps someone
else has noted elsewhere in Lexegete™. is responsible
for over 27 percent of the New Testament (Luke & Acts)
--more than the entire Pauline corpus. On this basis alone,
this ancient theological historian's (or historical theologian's)
voice deserves to be heard today.

To oversimplify somewhat, the first half
of the work that bear's the author's name (the whole
work is most often rather functionally referred to as Luke/Acts)
centers around its "hero", Jesus, his life and ministry,
and his progression to the site of his passion:
Jerusalem--the city and center of Judaism that rejected Jesus and his message. In this gospel, the Kingdom of God is proclaimed--first in Galilee,
then in Judea--and seeds planted for the community
that will continue what Jesus began. In a brief exegetical
survey of Luke-Acts, Dennis Duling entitles volume one of
this two part work, "The Ministry of the Spirit Through Jesus"
(THE NEW TESTAMENT: An Introduction. Perrin/Duling, 1982.)

This text comes from that large body of material that is generally known as the "Journey to Jerusalem" (9:51-19:27). Except for 18:15-19:27, the material is wholly non-Markan and combines the Q and L sources. Such a significant departure from the order of Mark's gospel is a clear indication that here are to be found those concerns both peculiar and important to Luke. This section represents over half of Luke's gospel and contains many of the themes that are central to his theology, including: the delay of the parousia, the mission to the gentiles, special concern for outcasts, the poor and women, discipleship and the Kingdom of God. This section is primarily theological in content and contains most of the best-known Lukan parables.

To narrow the focus somewhat, the passage under consideration is couched in a smaller body of material encompassing the twelfth chapter, which deals with teachings and warnings to the disciples (probably not limited to just the twelve). Luke has arranged a number of loosely connected sayings of Jesus into a set of exhortative teachings aimed at the Jewish Hellenistic Christians of his day. Jesus' words to his followers takes on a severity of tone that we usually expect to be reserved for the "scribes and pharisees".

Today's lection from Luke contains: a sudden outpouring of Jesus' personal feelings regarding his passion and the delay of the parousia, his stern assessment of the effect of Christianity on typical familial relations, as well as a lambasting of his followers for their blindness to the "signs of the times". These are originally unrelated sayings of Jesus that Luke appears to have strung together based on their common note of conflict.

The other lections for the day include: a typical jeremiad from its namesake, a Psalm of lamentation, and familiar words of comfort and encouragement from Hebrews 12 (I feel the relationship of the texts to each other is important - I work from the New Common Lectionary). All of the lections leave the basic impression that to be a person of faith means to encounter substantial opposition and personal difficulties (the first three being expressions of that inevitable difficulty, and Hebrews being words of encouragement for those encountering such difficulty). As is often the case during these ("dog") days of Pentecost, this gospel is part of a semi-continuous series of readings in Luke over twenty-four consecutive Sundays (Prospers 4-28).

1b. TEXT: Luke 12:49-56

Elk. 12:49 "I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!

Elk. 12:50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!

Lk. 12:51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!

Lk. 12:52 From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three;

Lk. 12:53 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."

Lk. 12:54 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.

Lk. 12:55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, `There will be scorching heat'; and it happens.

Lk. 12:56 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?

1c. Text (Greek, Westcott-Hort)

2. ANALYSIS: Luke 12:49-56

"Attention is focused on Jerusalem as the goal, so that the cross, resurrection, and ascension are anticipated. The section is almost entirely didactic and polemical . . . The fact that the section portrays Jesus as on his way to his suffering and death indicates also that Jesus is equipping his disciples for carrying on his work after his death and resurrection." (Arland Hultgren - Interpreting the Gospel, James L. Mays, ed.)

Within this unit of scripture are four discernible sayings: vs. 49, vs. 50, vss. 51-53, and vss. 54-56. There is no unanimity among translators as to how to group this set of verses. Placing together vss. 49-56 is as tenable as any other suggested grouping.

Luke 12:49 - It is conceivable that Matthew and Luke draw on the same source, as they both utilize the same (rare?) variant of ballo [to send, cast, pour or throw] in what are nearly parallel sayings. (MT 10:34) The image of "cast[ing] fire upon the earth" is reminiscent of the terrible "day of the Lord" that so predominates the thoughts of the minor prophets (Day of Judgment/the Lord - Joel 2:3-5, Nahum 1:5-6, Zephaniah 1:18 Refiner's Fire - Zechariah 13:9, Malachi 3:2).

" . . . Would that it were already kindled" suggests to some scholars that it is already assumed (in Jesus' mind or Luke's community?) that the parousia has been delayed, the subject of which was treated in last week's lection.

Vs. 50 This, again, has no direct parallels. In Mark 10:38-39, however, Jesus uses baptisma/baptizo as an allusion to his passion, as Luke does here. When Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem (9:51), he was well aware just how personally demanding his ministry was to be. The constraint he feels "presses" Jesus down in this very real "mini-portrait".

vss. 49, 50 In these two verses, Jesus echoes the strident apocalyptic themes and tones that characterized John the Baptist's preaching in Luke chapter 3. Possibly this is connected to 3:16's reference to being baptized with "the Holy Spirit and with fire". Perhaps this is an indication of the extent to which Jesus' preaching, like John's before him, was shaped by Jewish apocalypticism, which was an integral part of their immediate religious past.

vss. 51-53 This illustrates the crisis and disruption that Christ and God's Kingdom bring into the world and its relationships. As we will see in the last section (vss. 54-56), the lack of peace is in no small part owing to the stubborn refusal of the people to heed what should be obvious (hence Jesus' lament in 19:42). Vs. 53 is drawn from Micah's words of judgment (7:6) that Matthew has also borrowed.

vss. 54-56 While 49-53 are spoken to the disciples, these words are spoken to the multitudes. This basic saying is shared with MT 16:2,3.
Except for the basic tone of Jesus' words to his followers, this passage shares no obvious connection with the previous passage. The word dokimazo is most often translated discern (KJV) or interpret (RSV, et al). However, the word commonly means "to prove or try", as in a legal sense (hence, the connection with the following verses (57-59) which were not included in today's lection).

Kairos is what Luke chooses to indicate "time". As is so often true in the NT, this connotes the sense of fulness, pregnancy, opportunity and expectancy that chronos does not.

3. STRATEGY: Luke 12:49-56

At first blush, this lection, coming in the heat of the summer as it does, seems to offer very slender homiletical pickings (Which makes this writer think: Just as, in the old Kaopectate ® ad, people at the bus stop huddled under umbrellas in a downpour don't want to hear about diarrhea, neither is it likely that brow-mopping parishioners want to hear that Jesus came to bring fire down upon the earth--though they may be inclined to believe it if told).

Part of the difficulty in shaping a message from this lection lies in determining Luke's audience for these stern words. It seems likely that Jesus originally spoke these words (some or all?) to his followers who 1) sensed that they were living on the edge of the culmination of time (parousia), and 2) were commissioned by Jesus (10:1ff.) to live the lives of itinerant preachers ("wandering Christian charismatics" - Theissen) of the Kingdom of God--a difficult and often unrewarding vocation. Luke appears to have recast Jesus' exhortations into challenging words to the Christians of his day. Luke's fellow Christians saw themselves living in the last days and therefore might find comfort in knowing their Lord had predicted turbulent times for people of faith, and had lived through and died at the hands of that turbulence himself. Certainly, following the destruction of the temple, it would be virtually impossible for Hellenistic Jewish families to maintain unity were part of the family to become loyal to Christ, rejecting the old loyalties.

The preacher will want to be very careful how these exhortations are transformed into "homiletical gems". As mentioned above, the themes of fire, unrest, familial division, and inability to read the times may touch raw nerves in the hearers. Clearly Christianity is not always a blessing or at least perceived as a blessing. People in every age who have attempted to live out their understanding of radical discipleship have awakened unbelievable hostilities. Individual families aplenty have known the division that can occur when one or more of their members "get religion". Denominational families who struggle to be faithful to Christ's spirit in the sticky social areas of abortion, ecumenism, homosexuality, nuclear armaments, Central America, ad nauseum, will at times concur that Jesus came to bring division. Every generation has experienced the shaking up of old loyalties that the "sword" of Christ can effect. This writer's hunch is that this was a popular lection from which to preach during the Civil War.

In our more cynical and "prophetic" moments, it would be every preacher's temptation to point out to the church-folk and the world their attention to things absurd and their utter blindness: to things of importance, to the crying needs of our world, to deeper spiritual realities, to the multitude of ways that they help create the spiritual wasteland that troubles so many. The time that is so filled with the potentiality of God's Kingdom is passed by because all we knew to talk about was the weather. At the very least it would not hurt any of us to be reminded that Christ calls us to continually pull the scales/callouses from our eyes and hearts--that in an age of spiritual and moral torpor we need to find ways to be resensitized to the complexion, complexities and needs of our world. If your preaching of the "Good News" tends to be a bit privatized and one-sided at times, this could serve as a helpful corrective. Finally, at the beginning of The Road Less Travelled, the late M. Scott Peck observed that, "Life is difficult." Regarding the life of faith, this writer believes Jesus would concur. Regarding the homiletical adventure this lection engages one in, this writer concurs.


God of Grace and God of Glory (Fosdick)
Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory (Howe)
We Are Living, We Are Dwelling (Coxe)
Be Thou My Vision (Byrne/Hull)
Once to Every Man and Nation (Lowell)
Lead On, O King Eternal (Shurtleff)
From Everflowing Streams, Ruth Duck, Michael Bausch, eds.
We Are Gathered (Blesoff)
Sometimes I Wish (Etzler)
Vision for Tomorrow, Action for Today (Hunter)

Exegete: Gregory H. Ledbetter

Greg Ledbetter is a Baptist minister, formerly from E. Poultney,VT,
and now the pastor of Shell Ridge Community Church (American Baptist Convention)
in Walnut Creek, CA. Greg was one of the first pastors in the USA to
order Lexegete, and has remained a longtime user.



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