Today’s reading is Luke 12:49-13:9:
49 “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! 51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. 52 For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. 53 They 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.”
54 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming.’ And so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and it happens. 56 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?
57 “And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? 58 As you go with your accuser before the magistrate, make an effort to settle with him on the way, lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer put you in prison. 59 I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.”
13 There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
6 And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7 And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’8 And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. 9 Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”
My favorite Bible verses, the ones to which I turn most frequently, are the ones that give me comfort in times of sadness, peace in times of anxiety and joy in times of sorrow. When I think of Jesus, I think of the Jesus who said blessed are the peacekeepers, the meek and the lowly…
And the God to whom I direct my prayers is the God of Jeremiah 29: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”
Reading Luke 12:49-13:9 gives me a very different picture of Jesus, however. I am no longer allowed to sit contentedly with my pastel-colored, down-blanket version of Jesus that I turn to like a comfort food or a cathartic romantic comedy film when I need a pick-me-up. No – if I’m totally honest, I find Jesus to be downright disturbing in these verses.
Usually I resolve the discomfort by moving on from these passages quickly. But there comes a time in life when you either gain enough insight to realize that there must be a lot more to the Jesus that you claim to worship than you’re allowing, or you have no choice but to confront the ‘disturbing Jesus’ because – for instance – you’re writing an Ichthus blog about these verses… or something. I wish I could say my reason was the former.
In the four subsections between Luke 12:49 and 13:9, Jesus’ words are full of warning. Repent or perish (13:1-5). If you do not bear fruit, you will be cut down like a useless or dead tree (13:6-9). Jesus says: “Do you think that I have come to bring peace on this Earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” (12:51). “And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?” (12:57). “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?” (12:56).
What can I learn from the discomfort I feel when reading these words? How do I reconcile the discontinuity between the peace-giving, comforting Jesus to whom I always turn and this Jesus who disturbs me?
What I learn is that Jesus came not just to comfort but also to call, not just to bring joy but also to warn, and not just to proclaim our identity as Sons and Daughters of the King but also to expose our nature that is still enslaved to sin.
As I often find, I realize that I have tried to fit God into a self-made mold based on what is convenient for me. It’s nice to have a God that I can turn to when I am in trouble, but who besides that pretty much lets me live my life. I realize that I might as well be worshipping a golden calf, then.
Ultimately, I cannot ask Jesus to walk with me through this life but then dismiss some of the things He says to me, namely anything that feels challenging or convicting. God is God – unchangeable and wholly outside of me, independent of what I want or how I feel. If I claim to worship Him, I must internalize His message to “repent or perish” as much as I treasure His words, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28-29). And where I perceive discontinuity in His words or His nature, I need to delve deeper, trusting that the God who calls and warns us does so with just as much love as when He offers us comfort and peace.
Lilly Riveron ’17 is an Economics concentrator living in Leverett House.