Monday, August 8, 2016

Confusing Gospel? Add Three Verses

This is one of those Mondays when preachers are looking at the upcoming gospel lesson in the RCL (Luke 12:49-56) and thinking, "I better get out my commentary on the Letter to the Hebrews because there's no way I'm preaching on Luke 12!" This is Jesus at his most ornery. "I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!" Jesus declares, seeming to want to set the world on fire. "Do you think I have come to bring peace?" he asked, troublingly. "No, I tell you, but rather division!" In other words, Jesus is here to pick a fight and to tear families apart. Ready to give up on Luke 12? Already planning to preach on another lesson? Struggling to make sense of Angry Jesus?

Here's my suggestion: add three verses.

Read how the CEV renders Luke 12:57-59: "Why don’t you understand the right thing to do?  When someone accuses you of something, try to settle things before you are taken to court. If you don’t, you will be dragged before the judge. Then the judge will hand you over to the jailer, and you will be locked up. You won’t get out until you have paid the last cent you owe."

Most bibles include those three verses in the same paragraph or section as the second half of this gospel lesson, and I think it puts Angry Jesus into perspective. He's angry, but he's not itching to send people to hell; he's angry because people are ignoring the kingdom.

These concluding verses show me that Jesus is upset because people aren't living a kingdom life. "Why don't you understand the right thing to do?" he asks incredulously. "Look, if you're being accused, settle the case before it's too late. You don't want to be thrown into jail, do you?" Jesus' whole movement has been about urgency--the great NOW of God's kingdom. But people seem to be getting on with their lives as if nothing has really changed. But it has changed. Everything has changed. We can't wait any longer.

For weeks, we've heard about the urgency of the kingdom. It's coming. It's here. There's no time to bury your father or put your hand to the plow. We are taught to pray simply, "Thy kingdom come." We're told more than once to sell our possessions and give alms. Jesus has brought God's long-awaited kingdom to earth, and people are shrugging their shoulders and saying, "Um, can it wait until after the summer? We have a trip to Disney planned." Of course Jesus is angry!

In the lectionary, this week is a summary week. Next week we're back to Jesus' miracles and upsetting the religious authorities for healing on the Sabbath (Luke 13:10-17). This week is the cap on the several week run of the kingdom's call. This is the preacher's last chance to remind the congregation why all of this matters--why it's supposed to make a difference now. In other words, it's a chance for the preacher to say, "Haven't you been listening to anything I've said since I got here?" It's ok for there to be a little anger in the pulpit this week. It's clear that Jesus was angry. Inaction is not an option any longer. Don't let Jesus' urgent plea get lost.

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