‘I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 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:
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.’
He also said to the crowds, ‘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?
‘And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? Thus, when you go with your accuser before a magistrate, on the way make an effort to settle the case, or you may be dragged before the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer throw you in prison. I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.’
The wonderful Good News of Jesus can come as a real surprise! This is the Gospel that is freeing and healing for some, and life-changing in its correction of others.
I have always been drawn to this passage, as it speaks so clearly of the reality of what the Good News can offer and what it can cause. The Good News is not all nice and fluffy – it is fire and conflict.
Some of the deepest pains in our society have not changed a great deal from Jesus’ time to ours. Political and religious corruption, misogyny, poverty and nationalism – Jesus faces them all in the Gospels. The Good News of Jesus; the way he lived and walked through the world, shows clearly that as much as he brings healing and freedom, he brings fire to any way of living that causes harm to God’s amazing, diverse people.
Take a moment to think about the lives of people you know and the effect that the Good News might have on them.
The Good News of diversity that taught me that I am loved as a gay man, brought fire to the homophobia around me. Similarly, the Good News that proclaims women and the rainbow of genders as equals in society, brings fire to all toxic masculinity. Tackling homelessness brings fire to our apathy and holds a mirror to a community that is content to accept poverty. As Jesus hangs from the cross, he brings fire to all that causes death to humanity.
‘Do you think I came to bring peace to the earth?’
What amazing Good News to know that Jesus brings fire to everything that keeps us from God’s love.
Good News God, We pray that we will know this truth today: that your love for us brings fire to all that keeps us from you. May we also be prepared for our hands and minds to bring peace where necessary and fire and division to all structures in society that keep us from your love. May we hold the depth of this love in our hearts. Amen
The Rev’d Martin Knight is minister of St Paul’s URC, South Croydon and South Croydon United Church (Methodist/URC)