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.”[j]
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 vine dresser, ‘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 round 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.’”
Turn or Burn
Many of us would prefer a Jesus who was like a younger version of Santa Claus. We like the idea that he only ever wants to encourage us to be the best version of ourselves. He constantly cheers when we succeed, and he also cheers us on when we fail. Jesus gives us hugs and kisses and affirms everything we are and we could be. We remove many of his attributes so that he fits into every religious system. Then we tell each other that every religious system is the same and that we should all be tolerant, we should coexist, we should all get along.
Then Jesus goes and says he brings fire on the earth. We read the reality of Jesus saying that he has brought judgment and division. He won’t be made all things to all people. He won’t be watered down to fit our agendas. Jesus is whomever he defines himself as. We have to accept (or reject) him as he is. People will become divided within their own households and even seek to kill each other because of Jesus. He welcomes this in some way.
Israel is the first recipient of this judgment. He brings them grace, love, and forgiveness. However, to those who do not read the signs and choose the best path, Jesus leaves them on the road they are on. The path that seems right to them will result in death. This is not just the natural death that all people die, Jesus believes that to reject new life in him is to be damned to a second, spiritual death.
Israelites knew about judgment and so they asked Jesus if he considered those who had been killed young by accidents or by persecution were worse than others – “Is this the judgment you are talking of, Jesus?” Jesus dismisses the idea – these physical deaths are nothing compared with the reckoning people will receive on the Day of Judgment. Israel as a nation would receive a judgment soon, they had grace from God to repent despite the due time having arrived. However, Jesus seems to be saying that once he has died and risen again they will be held accountable as a people for whether they have responded to all that God has revealed through them.
Do we have a soft Jesus? Do we have a Jesus who we treat as we will? There needs to be fear and trembling. We need to see that there is judgment in the Kingdom of God. If one brings freedom, there is a choice. To choose freely to follow God is heavenly, to put off God is to choose to be damned – to die a second death. Have you chosen wisely?
Jesus, I like to have things my way, but you demand that I choose you. I am glad that at age 8 I chose to follow you on the path. However, help me to see that you have sanctified us, separated us, and there is a chasm of judgment between the saved and the damned. Help me to remember the gravity of who you are, to not water that down, to not stray. I desire that there be no division in my household, yet not my will but yours be done.
- What has Jesus come to bring?
- What does Jesus chide his listeners for not seeing?
- What does the fig tree represent?
- Do you see Jesus as bringing division? How?
- What is your response to Jesus’ fire?