Division cannot lead to peace, or so we have been told. Had I not spent the last 3 days breaking down a few verses from the Gospel of Luke, I would agree with such a statement. But now, I am not so sure…
What was this fire Jesus spoke of? Why did Jesus not bring peace even though we call him “the Prince of Peace”? Why would Jesus bring division?
I Bring Fire
Earlier this week, I was searching for a particular verse, and for some reason, once I opened up to Luke, I locked in on chapter 12, verse 49:
I have come to bring fire on earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, 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…
I had to ask myself the following question: Why would Jesus wish that the earth had already been kindled for a fire? If this verse was to imply a sort of wrathful hellfire to set the earth ablaze; then it wouldn’t make sense that Jesus was enduring such fire, would it? Unless we believe that Jesus was sadistic and enjoyed scorching hot days; we have to consider that there must be something deeper in the text.
Fire and Desire
Now, I am no theological scholar, nor am I overly familiar with Greek (or Hebrew) translation, but I do know how to pool resources. I have also been studying desire for the last 7 months, so the term “fire” really sticks out to me.
From what I have gathered, the way the term fire was used represents the element of fire, pir. Greco-Roman understanding of that time held to the notion that fire was the most fundamental of elements. Symbolically, fire represented desire, passion, conversion, and energy. The goddess Venus (Aphrodite) was an icon for love, sex, desire, and passion and, she was worshiped by many during the time of Jesus.
So too, within Christian thought, fire has been related to: desire, purification, passion, and transformation.
Long before the teachings of Jesus, however, the term fire was used to speak of desire. Many thinkers have taken their shots at defining desire and ascribing it to anything and everything from demonic possession, to a psychological necessity. Still other information suggests that desire is a curse, a crutch, a sin, a burden. Others see desire as a blessing and even as a very necessary dynamic that demands the strictest of balancing.
Is it possible that the fire Jesus was talking about was desire? Was he hoping for more passionate conviction?
What we know of the oration skills of Jesus is this: he spoke to the times. Could it be that Jesus was speaking their language?
From their general understanding, the people were aware of such symbolic relationships. If I wanted to get my message across to a particular culture, I would have to understand their culture to deliver a message that resonated with them. So, it’s possible that is exactly what he did.
Jesus had a way of utilizing trendy, traditional parables to curate messages- philosophical messages- that also required serious reflection. Jesus was deep, and his words were not just seasonings you sprinkle around. What Jesus poured out to the people required marinating and slow roasting. His content was not easy to swallow.
If I had to summarize Luke 12:49; I surmise that Jesus had wished for a passion or desire to have already been sparked within the hearts of women and men, prior to his exchanges with them. He had hoped for provocation.
He had probably wished that the way he arranged his words would have been enough to inflame the spark that was already placed in their heart by God. (I wonder how many times Jesus hit his face with his palm- is that what Palm Sunday is really about?)
I See It!
How many of us have seen the truth and yearn to share it with others, spending time in carefully selecting our words to explain this epiphany of awakening; only to be met with a countenance of confusion? It’s hard enough to say to yourself “I see it!”; what’s more, is trying to get another to see it.
I think Jesus had hoped that many more people would have been willing to be open-minded enough to understanding that he was just watering the seeds that had already been planted in their hearts. Seeds of truth that should have already germinated. “How I wish it were already kindled!” Maybe that meant: “How I wish they would ask me questions or share with me their understanding!” or “How I wish this made sense to you all!”
Jesus wanted people to have already seen a blurry version of the truth he was set to bring, so that when he adjusted the lens, so too would others be able to declare “I see it!”
For me, it would be as if Jesus said:
I had hoped that you had already prepared a bit for this lecture today, but I will just present anyway. If there are questions, I will be available afterwards…
It reminds me of a a passage from the Tao Te Ching; Lao Tzu says: The teacher will appear when the student is ready.
Perhaps Jesus was hoping that his students were a little more prepared?
Not Peace, Division
After Jesus tells his disciples that he had wished they were better informed; he asks and then answers a very pointed question. In Luke 12:51, Jesus addresses his disciples directly:
Do you think I came to bring peace on to the earth? No, I tell you, but division.
Why would Jesus want to bring division? Wasn’t Jesus about unity and Oneness? Why does this seem to contradict his other teachings?
What if Jesus didn’t necessarily want to bring division, only that he knew that by bringing the message of peace, the Good News, the message of love and hope; that instead it would only create division? And what if that division didn’t mean a line drawn in the sand?
Division is DetachmentWhat if the division Jesus spoke to was not an actual drawing of a line, but more so a way to advance detachment? Mental detachment, more precisely.
Detachment from what? Detachment from worldly systems, traditions, and practices- to name a few possibilities. Detachment from ideologies that we subscribe to and cling to as part of our identity.
If you are willing to consider that division and detachment are relatively close in understanding; then we can take this verse -not as a plain, flat, literal reading, but as a philosophical proposition. One that can be subjected to a rather poetic and practical interpretation.
Attachment is Clinging
Division and detachment both define a separation, and in particular cases, both words can be used to represent a spiritual separation from the world and worldly things. If we are Kingdom people, we should be uniting with Kingdom practices and not worldly practices, such as traditions, doctrines, laws, etc. Galatians 1:10 speaks to a similar idea:
Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.
Interestingly, such division or detachment can take place not just in the world, but also in the mind. Much of Eastern religious practices center on such an idea; that attachment brings suffering and to reduce suffering, we must be free from attachment.
Attachment is a clinging. If you recall, Jesus gave a very profound demand to Mary in the Gospel of John, when he said, “Do not cling to me” (John 20:17). Love does not cling and Jesus was aware of that. That is not to say that Mary was not also aware, more so that she needed reminding so she could complete her own journey. Was she clinging to her grief, to her emotions? Maybe she was clinging to her identity in Jesus as a man, rather than in Christ?
A House Divided
Continuing with our verses from Luke, we read that Jesus prophecies; that from now on, houses will be divided- fathers against sons, mothers against daughters, and in-laws against in-laws. Anyone who has been married or lived in a family knows that this is true, no matter what the topic of conversation is. But that’s not the point.
The point here, I believe, is that Jesus knew that the truth would divide us, externally as a community as well as internally; not only by allegiances and party loyalties, but the truth would divide our own minds.
Is there not division among families today? Do we not separate ourselves by labels we have picked up- by categories we place ourselves in- that create divisions? Labels such as: Republican, Democrat; Liberal, Conservative; Christian, Muslim, Jew; that demand, at the very least, a mental divide, if not a physical (and sometimes violent) divide?
A house divided against itself will fall, and a mind divided against itself will also fall- fall in line to conformity, echo chambers, and rhetoric. A mind divided against itself will be stunted.
Don’t we all have an internal division going on? We subscribe to particular ideologies, political affiliations, even religious beliefs that may not exactly lead us to any actual truth. It’s a sacrifice we are willing to take, however, because of the security in status.
We know that conforming to the half-truths (and even the lies) reduces the risk of exclusion and abandonment. We agree to fall in line for a variety of things merely because we are too afraid to step out of the comfy box we have been living in. Outside the box, there are less people- but maybe they are more aware of the truth?
We are already divided internally from the day we recognize that our loyalties lie in places that we don’t always want to be in. However, since others are there too, we are willing to follow the crowd. We choose the world’s approval by maintaining status quo. Jesus was a radical being who challenged the status quo. Jesus knew the division would be between the world and the Kingdom.
The Truth Divides
The truth is meant to divide. It is meant to divide your true Self from your false self. The truth is meant to ignite the internal spark and grow it into a consuming fire of knowledge. Isn’t that why Jesus added that additional word “mind” to that of the first and greatest commandment? (Matthew 22:37)
The division in our mind is not meant to be an on-going war that we are forever participating in. The division- the detachment (the deconstruction) – is meant to help us be more mindful of what is.
In fact, Jesus leads us to the idea of division by way of first teaching of watchfulness (Luke 12:35-47). Being watchful means being aware- it means paying full attention to the deeper meanings behind what a person says.
The truth isn’t always on the surface, nor should we expect it to be! We have to dig for it by dividing the soil.
Division Leads to Peace
Desire (fire) will ultimately lead us to to meet our needs. When our needs are properly satiated, we feel full. If Jesus wanted us to be more mindful, which I believe he did, then such mindfulness only comes at the cost of dividing- mentally- the ideas and beliefs that we have held. Which includes fully examining them for what they really are.
If what we cling to is an ideology that demands conformity, or competition, or comparison, then we cling to another nature of division that will never lead us to peace. We can cling to worldly ideals that seek the approval of people or we can follow Kingdom ways that will lead to peace.
This is the division Jesus knew his Truth would bring.