In lieu of a detailed outline and slides, this week I'm offering a reflective essay I wrote on Luke 12:49-59. I wrestled with this text this week and don't completely feel that I've probed it far enough. I found it very challenging, and I hope as you read through this reflection that you also will be challenged to give up your illusions for the real security that comes with following Christ.
Amidst our illusions of comfort and control, Jesus' suffering and rejection calls us to be watchful over our own spiritual lives.
There are two challenges in spiritual life: becoming comfortable with how we perceive things; and attempting to control our experience.
Becoming comfortable is one of the worst things we can do in our spiritual lives because it weakens our ability to maintain our attention and focus on Jesus and his mission. Earlier, in Luke 12:13-21, Jesus replied to a man who wanted Jesus to act as a referee in a dispute over his inheritance by telling a story about a certain rich man. The nameless rich man is a cipher for those who leave no room in their life for God by spending too much time and energy focusing on their desires and comfort.
Just like the man who wanted Jesus to arbitrate and tell his brother to divide the inheritance, the rich man wanted to make sure he kept what was his. He had a bumper crop during this particular harvest, more than enough to care for his needs. But instead of thinking missionally, instead of being a steward and watchful regarding how he could use this harvest, he decided to spend the time, energy, and capital to tear down his old barns and build newer, bigger ones so that he could put his feet up, take it easy, and be provided for. That very night God demanded his life from him and his excess went nowhere.
The parable teaches us that when we seek comfort above everything else, especially in our spiritual lives, we deaden our senses to God's leading.
This is why Jesus reminds us in his extended teaching in Luke 12:49-59 that his mission is one of judgment and suffering and rejection. To those who want peace, he will instead bring division.
But what of the Savior who is the prince of peace? That Jesus still exists. The difference is found in our definition of peace. To those who see the mission of Jesus as a mission of reconciliation and repentance, peace is truly what Jesus offers...along with the division that comes from those who don't like the disruption of their status quo. But to those who see the mission of Jesus as creating for them a peaceful existence whereby they can be comfortable, good members of a local church, and be served—Jesus says to them, “Do [not] think I came to bring peace on earth” (Luke 12:51).
A comfortable, easy, peaceful religious life is a nice feeling—but not a way of life conducive to the gospel.
A second challenge in spiritual living is the desire to control our own experience, to make it manageable to that we can understand it at all times and make sure nothing too “unmanageable” happens. This focus likewise takes our focus away from the mission of Jesus and puts it on current events that we seek to control—the state of the economy, our retirement plans, our job situations.
To these, Jesus reminds us not to worry (Luke 12:22-34). Anxiety is the opposite of the peace Jesus advocates (not the peace we necessarily desire). It wears us down and makes us uncomfortable so we work to minimize anxiety through control. These are like the servant who responds to the anxiety of uncertainty by beating his fellow servants. This failed servant was not prepared for the return of the King and paid dearly for it.
The attitudes of comfort and control are represented in Jesus' teaching when he calls out the hypocrites for seeking a comfortable peace and knowing the weather. They were experts in shallowness but apprentices in seriousness.
I remember being part of a discussion and bible study with a group of Christians around the time a famous model/movie star died. During the bible study, most of these Christians, deemed mature by the consumerist culture of the church, had little to nothing to contribute. However, after the bible study, during the fellowship time, these same Christians perked up and knew all the latest information—and gossip!—about the dead model. They were experts in shallowness but apprentices in seriousness.
Jesus calls us to be serious. He calls us to be watchful and attentive to our own souls and the movement of the Spirit within us. “How can you know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and sky but not this present time?” he asks us?
- How can you know the latest gossip about the dead movie star but not know how God is moving in your family?
- How can you know the weather report for your weekend getaway and not feel the pull of the Spirit towards greater service?
- How can you know the sports scores for all your teams but miss the significance of what God is trying to shape your life to be?
- How can you know all the “right” answers to the church's doctrinal questions but completely miss the movement of God's Spirit in the same church?
We interpret first for ourselves and then for others. We interpret because it helps us be watchful, to pay attention. And it's in paying attention to the subtle moves of the Spirit within us that we find the true and lasting peace and comfort that God freely offers to us. It is this grace, found even in suffering and rejection, that moves us forward into the world to give freely of ourselves just as we were freely given to.