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Hebrews 11.29 – 12.2 / Luke 12.49 - 56

This is one of Jesus’ more difficult teachings, and it certainly does not sit comfortably with any notion of “gentle Jesus, meek and mild”. It challenges us, as it would have challenged its original hearers.

To begin to understand it we need to recognise that it is actually two separate conversations. The first, about fire, about his baptism, about family division, is Jesus speaking with his disciples. The language he uses is intimate, difficult, personal.

The fire of which he speaks is generally held to be the Holy Spirit (which appeared as tongues of flame at Pentecost). This fire is not so much destructive, as we might imagine, but rather, is renewing. Like a forest fire, where new life springs from the charred remains of the burned forest. If we read it this way, we may hear a note of frustration in Jesus’ voice, that he is not being understood.

His oncoming baptism is generally held to be his death and resurrection; if this is the case we can see that Jesus knows what will happen to him, and that the thought is troubling him. As it probably would any of us. Perhaps that accounts at least in part to his frustration.

Bringing division rather than peace. This is difficult. Perhaps it alludes to a change from corporate religion to individual faith. Jewish national identity derived from an ancestry traceable back to Abraham so the family tree was very important. Also, the father was head of the household, to whom the whole family was subject. By contrast, faith in Jesus Christ is a personal decision, which any member of a family might take for themselves. This both threatens the existing family and social structure and promises new families of believers. It is noticeable that the scripture which Jesus quotes as being about to be fulfilled talks only of generational divisions – parents against children. Perhaps it reflects the needs of children to find their own identities; perhaps it comes at least in part from differences between Jesus and his own family.

The second conversation, about interpreting the times, is less personal, but no less piercing.

Jesus speaks now to the crowds in general; you know how to interpret the weather signs, that say things will change. How can you, with all your heritage in the Scriptures, not understand this time now, that things must change. Once again we might catch a glimpse of Jesus’ frustration. Perhaps things have to change because they cannot see.

Questions:

  1. Have you ever tried to introduce some change and been frustrated by other people not understanding what you’re trying to achieve? Or have you not understood why someone else was trying to change something? How did you feel, how did you respond?
  2. If Jesus expressed frustration then, what might he express frustration about now, in our own lives, or in the world in general?
  3. Where might we have seen new life emerging from destruction or loss?