Following Jesus and his rhythm and ways is hard (thanks, Captain Obvious). We know this, but I don’t know the degree to which we really let it in. We’ve been talking about this for several days now, and this harsh Jesus just won’t go away. Half way through Luke’s Gospel I think it’s an important reminder that while God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love, God also demands something of those of us who claim to be followers of God “in-the-flesh”.
God did not come to earth as Jesus Christ in order to start a new religion. God did not show up here to show us how to be fine upstanding citizens living the American dream. God did not show up among us so that we could set up some kind of complex morality code used to wield power over people. These verses are tough, but we have to let in their overarching narrative (going back to Mary):
“He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:51-53, from The Magnificat)
If the above scripture is what Mary is singing while pregnant with Jesus, why should we be surprised by really hard words from Jesus? Mary’s song is the Christmas story. This is our favorite Jesus, right? (Remember the scene in Talledaga Nights? “I like the baby Jesus the best!”) Luke’s Jesus, the Jesus about whom we sing “joy to the world” and “sleep in heavenly peace” and “glory to the newborn king”, is a polarizing Jesus; for those who resist true, fully realized equality, that is.
That’s what all of this is about. When Jesus says, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” (Luke 12:51), he’s not saying that he’s coming to start a war. Jesus is coming to call out the value of all humans, which includes kings and peasants, pharisees and hemorrhaging women, priests and samaritans. The irony of Luke’s Jesus is that his effort to unite us is what divides us. Perhaps the heart of humanity’s fall is that we love our divisions. There is a difference between diversity and division. Diversity is beautiful. Division kills. As Jesus seeks to unify humanity, we will reject it because of just how much it confronts our comfort. And a rejection of unity necessitates division.
Too often we don’t see it. We don’t see what we’re doing. We can predict tomorrow’s weather, but can’t see the storm raging around and within us right now. Luke’s Jesus (I’m finding) assaults are very way of being in the world. He sweeps in and exposes us. When we read these verses the question to ask is, “where am I in this?” “What’s going on within me that resists Jesus’ words here?” When we read words like this from Jesus, they are not intended for anyone but me.