Lectionary Reflection for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from Luke (BTCB) by David Lyle Jeffrey, commenting on Luke 12:49-56:


Though there are partial parallels to what follows in the other two Synoptics (Matt. 10:34-36; Mark 10:38) there is little verbal overlap, indicating a probability that the eschatological element, particularly the notion of ultimate judgment, was a repeated theme in Jesus’s teaching (cf. Matt. 24-25).

The distinctive feature in this discourse is that the “fire” of the coming judgment, which is “already kindled” (Luke 12:49), is as much at the center of Jesus’s divine purpose as is redemption. He expresses impatience to get to the climax of his ministry, his “baptism to be baptized with” (cf. Mark 10:38-39; Matt. 20:22-23)—a clear reference to his impending death (also Cyril 1983: Homily 94).

It must have seemed counterintuitive to some (however gratifying to a Galilean Zealot like Judas) that Jesus’s declared purpose in coming to earth is not yet to bring the peace for which all were in hope but rather “division” (diamerismos, a hapax legomenon in the New Testament but anticipated by the Greek text of Ezek. 48:29 and Mic. 7:12). There is to be a separating of family members from each other, of faithful from unfaithful servants, as even just now he has been saying (Talbert 2002: 144).

There is no talk of general redemption here, or household salvation, or the redemption of all Israel. Clearly, as in Matthew, some will be saved and some will be lost. Echoes of the word of God from Ezek. 9-25 are in this speech (especially 12:22-28; 13:17; 18:2-25; 21:5); the father will not be held responsible for the sinfulness of the son, nor the son for his father, and so with mother and daughter: everyone’s choice is his own responsibility, to obey or to disobey. These are not palliative words.

The conclusion to Jesus’s denunciation is trenchant with the irony of God’s voice as it is found in Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and other prophets. In fact, it is not too much to say of either those speeches or Jesus’s words here that they are marked by sarcasm: his hearers—now clearly the general crowd—know well enough how to read the weather signs in the natural order and to predict the consequences that will follow as inevitable (Luke 12:54-55).

Yet what is in its own way much more obvious—the presence of hypocrisy, willful disobedience, and their inexorable consequences (was this an oblique reference to the destruction of Jerusalem as well as the inevitable judgment of God?)—they entirely miss. As with Israel and the temple in the time of Ezekiel, denial had become a pervasive reflex. Few want to face reality.

These are obvious signs of the “time” (kairos here, rather than kronos, suggesting a momentous time of divine disclosure): how can the people be so obtuse as to miss them?


©2012 by David Lyle Jeffrey. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.