Isaiah 5:1-7 – I will sing to my lover about his vineyard: It produced wild grapes. Therefore I will make it a wasteland.
Jeremiah 23:23-29 -Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?
Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19 – Shepherd of Israel: You planted a vineyard, then tore down its walls. Support us again, and we will not turn from you.
Psalm 82– Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy…. Rise up, O God, judge the earth; for the nations belong to you!
Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2 – By faith the people passed through the Red Sea… By faith the walls of Jericho fell.. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient… Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
Luke 12:49-56– I came to bring fire to the earth. I have not come to bring peace but division. Read the times like the seasons.
This is an interesting passage from a textual standpoint. This may be an echo of the prophet Jeremiah, in a text that is appointed as our first lesson:
“Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” ~ Jeremiah 23:29
There are no parallels in Mark or John, which probably means this is copied from what scholars call Q, for the Latin “quelle”, the sayings source. There is a parallel in Matthew, but it’s not an exact parallel. Consider the first half of the text and its parallel in Matthew:
49″I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three;53they 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.”
34 ‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
35 For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
The first part of the Luke text is omitted in Matthew. It is peculiar to Luke. There is a parallel in another gospel, the Gospel of Thomas. Thomas is a gospel that was discovered in 1945. There are two dozen gospels that we know of. Thomas’ gospel is a gospel of sayings, half of which are quite similar to those in the four canonical gospels.
Jesus said, “I have cast fire upon the world, and look, I’m guarding it until it blazes.” ~ Gospel of Thomas, Saying 10
Jesus said, “People probably think that it is peace that I have come to impose upon the world. And they do not recognize that it is divisions that I have come to impose upon the earth – fire, sword, battle. Indeed, there will be five in a house. There will be three over two and two over three, parent over child and child over parent. And they will stand at rest by being solitaries.” ~ Gospel of Thomas, Saying 16
Thomas could have been written before Luke. Scholars don’t agree. But even those who date Thomas after Luke agree that Thomas’ sayings date back to 30-60 A.D, perhaps in oral form. Thomas is clearly not copying Luke. Luke is not copying Thomas. So, in other words, both Luke and Thomas are drawing upon an earlier source that is lost to us. This source has Jesus saying, enigmatically, “I have cast fire upon the earth.” And then something about kindling it.
This is most certainly raw source material. We are hearing the voice of Jesus emerge from the cacophony of recordings of recordings. He most certainly spoke in parables and enigmas, which we easily explain by jumping to 21st century conclusions.
The average congregation probably doesn’t give a hoot about source theories or narrative criticism scholarship. I’m sure a gifted preacher can set the stage for a mystique about getting to the original voice calling to us down two millennia, but few congregations will tolerate a steady diet of this. I mention it to spark the imagination. What on earth might this wild, traveling exorcist have meant when he said he was casting fire on the earth?
I’m reluctant to cheapen his words with a guess, but I suppose that’s our job. Some winsome preachers might be able to capture the soul of it through poetry, without trying to explain it away. The rest of us will have to muddle through, but let us do so with great care and respect.
Luke has Jesus follow his fire comment with a comment about his upcoming baptism, which appears to be a veiled reference to his crucifixion. Jesus’ ministry brings such fire it leads to his baptism. If we follow this interpretation down the trail, this fire is Jesus’ scandalous ministry. It is as if he is saying, don’t expect everyone to just love what I’m dishing out here. It’s going to get some people’s dander up, including some folks in your family.
Others have suggested Jesus’ ministry clearly called some folks to leave their families behind. It caused the disciples to leave their nets and fishing trade in order to tromp around Galilee, and then Judea, and finally to end up at the center of a crucifixion in Jerusalem.
Phyllis Tickle remarks, “Intentionally giving up one’s life and its natural loves for the sake of being true at all costs to God’s
logos and his prescribed way of mercy, justice, compassion, humility, and love of the other as of one’s self is a hard command.” (Full Article: Act as Do Those Who Understand)
If I love my neighbor as my self, then all people are my brothers and sisters. If I view my family as the human family, does this pose a threat to the identity of my clan? If my loyalty and compassion to the Samaritan, the outsider, the alien is as great as my loyalty to my tribe, am I not a traitor?
Consider Luke 8:19-21:
Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.” But he said to them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”
The way of Jesus threatens all of our competing allegiances. “My mother and brothers are those who hear the word,” which is like fire according to Jeremiah, “and do it.” Following Jesus creates a new family.
The word of God has power. Paul says the gospel is a power (dunamis, an explosive power, from which we get our word dynamite). Could Paul have been thinking about sayings like this of Jesus? Let’s not diminish the word’s fire and force. We are called to forge a new family, one that does not deny our earthly families, but certainly transcends them. This kind of community could set the world on fire. Indeed, the kindling has begun.
Yours in Christ,
Bishop Michael Rinehart