If this was a soap opera script it would begin as follows…
“Last week on ‘Following Jesus‘”
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?” And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and prudent manager whom his master will put in charge of his slaves, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. But if that slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and if he begins to beat the other slaves, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful. That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.
“…and now to this week’s episode of ‘Following Jesus’”
“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?
Last week I was reflecting that there is a shift of mood in the gospel that we read from Luke 12:32-48. The passage begins with a beautiful theme of blessing for the crowd. The “little flock” are to be the recipients of the basilea, the reign of a parental God, (contrasted with the despotic turannis of Rome). [I have coloured that text green] I suggested that perhaps the latter half of the passage [which I have coloured red] reflected the mood of an abused and despondent church at the time Luke wrote: a church that was being abused by leaders that had lost their way and their focus.
To enter fully into this week’s passage (verses 49-56) we have to connect it to the preceding passage for it is the same dialogue, and I have coloured the text for this week to continue the mood from “last week”.
I can’t remember where it was that I first learnt of the two levels of Jesus’ teaching, so forgive me for not referencing my source. My memory is becoming a forgettery! It is however an interesting dimension to bear in mind when reading the teachings of Jesus. When he is with the crowd, strangers and foreigners, he proclaims the Good News of God’s unconditional acceptance and universal compassion. When Jesus is with the disciples, his teaching is far more demanding and often blunt. “How much longer do I have to put up with you?!“, kind of sayings. The point is that the Good News brings us to the place of commitment and discipleship, not the other way around. I am dumbfounded when I hear preaching that implies that only when we have done the “hard stuff” will we experience grace. “No! No! No!“, I want to scream, “We do the hard stuff because we have experienced grace!“
Jesus is continuing, this week, to answer Peter’s question, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?”. His initial response is to warn the douloi (slaves) of the Bridegroom not to become lax and abusive of their fellow servants whilst waiting for the return of the Bridegroom. (I asked last week if this was perhaps Luke’s editorialising of the narrative as he saw the abuses of the ninth century church?)
In the final part of that answer to Peter, Jesus speaks in graphic terms to the disciples about the division his proclamation will bring, and then he ends with a final challenge to the crowd.
Firstly Jesus speaks of bringing fire to the earth. Here is a possible allusion to Elijah, the conqueror of the false prophets in his day. In similar ways Jesus understands his mission to challenge and confront the lost and erroneous worship values of his day. An ironic insight comes from the Greek, where the word for fire is “Pur” could this be a etymological root in our word “purify”? None of the etymological dictionaries I consulted gave that but it’s a nice little hook for this discussion.
He goes on to talk about his baptism, his initiation. I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Once again dipping into the Greek text discloses that Jesus is again using the word telesthei which is the same word he cries from the cross when “It is accomplished“, “Tetelestai” For more on this see (my blog from last week.)
The stress that Jesus says he is experiencing until his “baptism” is accomplished is the same word Paul uses when he writes “For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.” 2 Corinthians 5:14
From this point Jesus launches into a disturbing discourse about the divisions that his coming will bring about on earth. “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.” What does this all mean?
Firstly five is never going to divide equally. Odd numbers never do! Is this the origin of “being at odds with someone”?
Secondly, I must confess that the specific relationships Jesus points out are the ones which, in my experience, are most naturally conflicted! Think about it…
- Father against son.
- Mother against daughter
- Mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and vice versa
These are the classic conflict lines in families.
Note he doesn’t say :
- Father against daughter
- Mother against son
- Brother against sister
These great primal and psychological bonds that are the subjects of a thousand human dramas, on and off the stage, are not part of the list. Why is this so? Why are the most common lines of conflict used by Jesus to illustrate the division he is going to bring?
Is Jesus, as reported by Luke, choosing these three examples of natural conflict very specifically to illustrate the crisis that following Jesus will bring? I think so.
Firstly in the reference to the “Father and Son” conflict Jesus is making the following clear. Conflict is natural, and the conflict between the followers of Jesus and the old order will be a natural consequence of his kingdom’s (basilea’s) reign against the turranis (despotic power) of the established political order and the cult of Emperor worship imposed by Rome. The Pariarchal power of old order dominance and oppression has no place in the kingdom of Jesus. We must never forget, especially in these perilous political times, that the first Christians were persecuted not for dogma, but for devotion. They refused to bow down to the image of the Emperor as was required of all Roman citizens and people in occupied territories.
Secondly, relating to the Mother against daughter, the conflict is not only going to be against the powers and principalities of Rome. The Jews of Jesus day had a similar opposition to Emperor worship yet they too came into conflict with the values of the Kingdom of the Heavens. That is because the kingdom crisis reaches into Matriarchal energies and strongholds. It is worth remembering that the Jews were and are, a Matrilineal culture in the time of Jesus. Matrilinearity had been developing in the Hellenistic world not from the Torah, but in the oral tradition which was codified in the Talmud by the 2nd century CE, which means it would have been active in the traditions and times of the Jesus and the early church. See Wikipedia . Having illustrated the crisis the Kingdom will be to Patriotism (you did see pater in Patriotism?) with regard to the Father- son conflict and Rome. I suggest that in the Mother-daughter conflict Jesus is now illustrating the conflict the kingdom crisis will bring for the established matrilinear religion of his day. The old evangelical adage, “God has no grandchildren” which was used to emphasize that each generation has to make their own decision for Christ, is helpful to illustrate the Mother-daughter conflict. Claiming religious lineage is not a kingdom value.
So finally the Mother-in-law / Daughter-in-law, reciprocal conflict; what can this mean? I must admit I was stumped with this one at first until I fired up ISA2 once more. [No it isn’t a NASA rocket, it is Interlinear Scripture Analyzer 2 a really useful program that makes my Greek look much better than it is.
What I discovered is that the literal words in the Greek text of Luke don’t say Mother-in-Law / Daughter-in-law. The literal words are “Matri penthera epi tein Numphein auteis”. Translating word by word, that reads “Mother mother-in-law on the BRIDE of her”. The big AHA for me was that what we translate as daughter-in-law is the word Numphein ie Nymph which literally means bride. Numphein is used only in the Gospels of Matthew Luke and John where it refers to “bride” and then in Revelation where it refers to the Bride of the Lamb, which is the church! I would suggest that in this third example of the conflict the kingdom will bring Jesus is acknowledging that his kingdom will not only bring conflict between Church and State; nor only between Church and the originating Mother of the Church, the Judaism of Jesus’ day. The mother-in-law will be in conflict with the bride. Law and grace, forever in tension.
Could it be that Jesus was teaching the disciples to be aware that within the church itself there would be division and discord caused by the crisis of the new values of the kingdom of God’s reign?
I believe he was. Simply supporting the church status quo is not a kingdom value. Self criticism and constant measurement against kingdom values is essential. As evidence of this need I would cite the following:
- Within a few centuries the Church had acquiesced to the power of the state and the Pope was the Spiritual Emperor. The Father son conflict was papered over in a political truce that has never really worked.
- The Patristic councils effectively expunged all Matriarchal forms of Christianity in its Gnostic formulations and with the hatchet job done on Mary Magdalene. This feminine energy has only recently been replaced by the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary promulgated in 1950 and celebrated by our Catholic friends this very Sunday. Subsequent strides in Feminist theology still strive to restore the balance within the church.
- The Reformation and Counter-reformation were shifts and shakes in an organism that constantly has to be self-reflective and by implication self-critical.
- In our own day the Emerging church is a form in which that self-critical assessment continues to strive for context relevance in tension with honesty and obedience to Jesus.
We would do well as church to not be afraid to constantly asses the state of the predicted Father-son, Mother-daughter and Mother-in-Law to Bride, conflicts of our day.
In conclusion Jesus turns to the crowd and accuses them of hypocrisy. He reminds them of their ability to read the weather and yet at the same time to avoid seeing the blatant truth of God’s values juxtaposed with political, religious and organizational power.
I wonder if he would say the same to us today? It seems that the values of the kingdom that Jesus came to inaugurate and which he accomplished in his life, death and resurrection, are still in tension with the values of our politics, our religions and our organizations.
Are we prepared to bear the cost of Christ’s Kingdom values?