Saturday, August 6, 2016

Jesus Christ, Our Crisis

Luke 12:49-56, the gospel lesson appointed for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost, comes near the end of this chapter, which is a conglomeration of sayings of Jesus.  We have pieces from the Sermon on the Mount, as well as pieces from Jesus' final words about his return.  Here, we have a stern word about the division that his appearance will cause on the earth.  We are reminded, lest we forget, that Jesus always brings a "crisis" (i.e. a moment of decision) to those who hear his voice.  How will we hear this message - that is the question.

(The following questions are a sample from my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available through or amazon.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  Undoubtedly this text is pure law.  This text calls us to account.  To quote the last verse of the Old Testament lesson appointed for this day, "Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?" (Jer. 23:29)  This verse was Luther's favorite image for the law - a word which brings fire to burn and a hammer to break a rock in pieces.  Luther said that the law exposes our need for Christ, brings us to a point of crisis, a time of decision, when we are forced to decide if we are going to face our sins or not.  When Jesus asks in this text if we think he has come to bring peace on earth, he is really asking, "Do you think I have come to protect the status quo?"  The answer, of course, is no!

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  There is no word of grace here.  There is no word that proclaims God's love, or that gives Christ to the world.  This we will need to discover for ourselves.  Our question is, "Can this word which does not protect the status quo be a word of grace?" A reading of Hebrews 12 might help us answer that question.  We have the first two verses of that chapter as part of the second reading appointed for the day.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  It is always important to identify with the ones whom the Word - here, Jesus - is addressing.  We are the ones Jesus calls hypocrites.  We are the ones Jesus accuses of believing that he comes to protect the status quo.  If we preachers make the mistake of identifying with Jesus here, somehow believing that he is not talking to us, we are gravely mistaken.

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  Since the call to obedience is always the Word functioning to say, "Follow Jesus" we might interpret this text as an implicit call to obedience.  We are being called to obedience, hearing Jesus say, "Follow me, even though there will be conflict.  Follow me, even though it might mean breaking with those who refuse to believe in my return."

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  Since a gospel word is not present in this text, couplets are not readily imagined, but we might go beyond the text and imagine couplets like chastened/loved; disciplined/protected; warned/saved.

6.  Exegetical work:  It is Fred Craddock, in his commentary on the gospel of Luke (Interpretation Series) who coined the phrase, "Jesus is the crisis of the world, (John 12:31) 'Now is the judgement of the world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out'... To turn toward one person or goal or value means turning away from another."  (p. 166)  Craddock also writes, "In other words, give attention to your life before God now, because if delayed until the eschaton (i.e. the end), all that remains is the sentencing."  A number of ancient writers are also instructive in their comments about this text.  All these come from the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture available from IV Press.  Cyril of Alexandria:  "We affirm that the fire that Christ sent out is for humanity's salvation and profit... The fire is the saving message of the gospel and the power of its commandments... The gospel ignites all of us on earth to a life of piety and makes us fervent in spirit."  Ambrose:  "[Fire of love] consumes whatever is material and earthly but tests whatever is pure.... With this fire, he inflamed the heart of his apostles." (ACCS, vol III, p. 217f).

Blessings on your proclamation!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Glen. Your reflections on this difficult text are really helpful.