Welcome to Jesus Unmasked! The following show notes are not a transcript but rather a summary and brief extension of the ideas gleaned from the lectionary readings and conversation. If the notes or video spark your own ideas or questions, please feel free to leave comments and join our live conversations! During the summer, our regular Wednesday morning episodes are postponed as we juggle multiple schedules, but we fit in a weekly live show when we can! You can find the date and time of our next episode when we announce it Monday on the Raven Foundation Facebook Page.
This is one of the passages that I’d rather avoid. Or maybe I would have my associate pastor preach this text. Better yet, leave it to the youth pastor. Well, I don’t have an associate or a youth pastor, so I’ll just go on vacation this weekend…
Jesus Brings the Fire
As Billy Joel said, we didn’t start the fire. But did Jesus start the fire? Our passage begins, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!”
Ouch. Jesus, simmer down. I mean, isn’t Jesus the Prince of Peace? Oh, but it gets worse! Jesus says, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”
Actually, Jesus, we do think you came to bring peace. Isn’t that your job?
Jesus and False Peace
Yes, but Jesus is not the Prince of False Peace. He came to disrupt our sense of false peace.
We gain a sense of false peace by scapegoating. Whenever we unite against a common enemy and defeat them through murder or exclusion. we gain a sense of peace. But peace through scapegoating is always a false peace because we will always find more scapegoats.
Jesus brings the fire to that way of making “peace.” Whenever we think of fire and the Bible, we think of hell. But throughout the Bible we see that fire is a purifying agent. Fire burns the chaff and purifies gold. Jesus came to bring fire so that we might be purified of our ways of scapegoating.
America’s Addiction to Scapegoating
But have you noticed that we are a bit addicted to scapegoating? You know, immigrants, African Americans, poor people, rich people, Democrats, Republicans. Everyone gets scapegoated and none of us can fully agree on who the real villain is.
Jesus says that families will be divided, “three against two and two against three.” Parents and children will turn against each other.
Does that feel like modern America to you?
It was first-century Palestine, too.
But here’s the point: you know that this could happen to you. Prepare for the fire, because in our political climate people will likely turn against you. And when it happens, you can remember the words of Jesus. It’s a warning, but it’s also meant to prepare us. When people turn against us, we don’t have to turn against them. When they insult us, we don’t have to insult them. We don’t have to mimic the hatred that people throw at us. We can just keep speaking the truth in love.
Interpreting the Signs of the Times
This is partly how we interpret the present time. The present time of Jesus day, and of ours, is the time of scapegoating. Jesus’ baptism at this point is his baptism of the cross. He was the ultimate scapegoat. The religious and political establishment turned against him, but he refused to respond in kind. Instead, from the cross he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Jesus came to bring the fire of God’s love, but he was consumed by the fire of human violence. Fortunately, the fire of God’s love can never be extinguished. It was returned in the resurrection when Jesus repeatedly offered peace to those who betrayed him.
But this time, his disciples began to understand the kind of peace Jesus offered. It wasn’t a peace based on scapegoating, but rather on the purifying fire of God’s nonviolent love.