Jesus said, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! …Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided…When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. 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?” —Luke 12:49,51,54-56
There’s something in this passage that provokes me a bit, and I’d wager it is not one many of us would turn to first for comfort and solace. For one thing, when I see a cloud rising in the west I think: “Better not get my hopes up for rain.” The scorching heat bit is more reliable. But what good is my guessing about the weather when Jesus is riled up this way?
It’s hard to hear the Prince of Peace predicting division and wishing to start a fire. Jesus seems impatient with followers who would be confident as to sun and rain but clueless when it comes to the urgency of the coming kingdom.
Earlier in Luke’s gospel, we’ve been introduced to the idea of Jesus coming to baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. John the Baptizer draws this image of fire as one of refinement, purification, and thereby transformation. This passage isn’t about a Jesus who wants to burn it all down. The unsettling thing about this passage is that Jesus expects the gospel to change us.
Most of us find contentment in our predictable patterns—and yet Jesus urgently desires that we pay attention and take part in the kind of change that frees us and our world from the comfort of the devils we know best.
What holy fire is trying to catch your attention?
What needs to burn away to set you free for loving action today?