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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

+ PENTECOST TWELVE + Luke 12:49-56 +

Lexegete™ | Year C | St. Luke


Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

August 15, 2010 (Lectionary 20)

Complementary Series

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

Semicontinuous Series

Isaiah 5:1-7
Psalm 80:1-2, 8-18 (14, 15)
Hebrews 11:29–12:2
Luke 12:49-56

Prayer of the Day

O God, judge eternal, you love justice and hate oppression, and you call us to share your zeal for truth. Give us courage to take our stand with all victims of bloodshed and greed, and, following your servants and prophets, to look to the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Gospel Acclamation

Alleluia. My sheep | hear my voice.
I know them, and they | follow me. Alleluia. (John 10:27)

1a. CONTEXT: Luke 12:49-56

The author of this passage, as perhaps someone else has

noted elsewhere in this 'electronic commentary,' 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.

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 Lucan 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 orginally 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

(Propers 4-28).

1b. TEXT: Luke 12:49-56


Not Peace, but Division

49 “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! 51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. 52 For from now on in one house there will be five 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 say at once, ‘A shower is coming.’ 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, English Standard Version copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles


49Πῦρ ἦλθον βαλεῖν π τὴν γῆν, καὶ τί θέλω εἰ ἤδη ἀνήφθη. 50βάπτισμα δὲ ἔχω βαπτισθῆναι, καὶ πῶς συνέχομαι ἕως ὅτου τελεσθῇ. 51δοκεῖτε ὅτι εἰρήνην παρεγενόμην δοῦναι ἐν τῇ γῇ; οὐχί, λέγω ὑμῖν, ἀλλ' διαμερισμόν. 52ἔσονται γὰρ π τοῦ νῦν πέντε ἐν ἑνὶ οἴκῳ διαμεμερισμένοι, τρεῖς π δυσὶν καὶ δύο π τρισίν, 53διαμερισθήσονται πατὴρ π υἱῷ καὶ υἱὸς π πατρί, μήτηρ π τὴν θυγατέρα καὶ θυγάτηρ π τὴν μητέρα, πενθερὰ π τὴν νύμφην αὐτῆς καὶ νύμφη π τὴν πενθεράν. 54Ἔλεγεν δὲ καὶ τοῖς ὄχλοις, Οταν ἴδητε [τὴν] νεφέλην ἀνατέλλουσαν π δυσμῶν, εὐθέως λέγετε ὅτι Ὄμβρος ἔρχεται, καὶ γίνεται οὕτως: 55καὶ ὅταν νότον πνέοντα, λέγετε ὅτι Καύσων ἔσται, καὶ γίνεται. 56ποκριταί, τὸ πρόσωπον τῆς γῆς καὶ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ οἴδατε δοκιμάζειν, τὸν καιρὸν δὲ τοῦτον πῶς οὐκ οἴδατε δοκιμάζειν;

Novum Testamentum Graece, Nestle-Aland 26th edition © 1979, Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart;

The Greek New Testament, 3rd edition © 1975, United Bible Societies, London

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 Judgement/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


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


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


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


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


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

Kaopectate ad, people at the bustop huddled under their

umbrellas in a downpour don't want to hear about diarrhea,

neither is it likely that brow-mopping parishioners will

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


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 his bestselling book The Road

Less Traveled, 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



All are Welcome (ELW 641)

God of Grace and God of Glory (ELW 705)

Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory (ELW 890)

Be Thou My Vision (ELW 793)

Once to Every Man and Nation (various)

Lead On, O King Eternal (ELW 805)

Exegete: The Rev. Dr. Gregory H. Ledbetter is Pastor of Shell Ridge Community Church, Walnut Creek, CA:


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