Luke 12:49-53


Problem 3 – Psychological Denial

Luke wished to stress that the Christian attitude to the world involved more than alertness, more even than a generalised responsibility. The disciples’ mission was to be also their passion.

Luke 12:49-53  -  Jesus as Cause of Division

49 “I came to cast fire on the earth,
and how I wish that it catch fire!
50 I have a baptism to be baptised with,
and how much I am stressed
until such time it is complete!

To cast fire on the earth speaks of intensity. Jesus wished passionately that people accept and respond to the invitation to share in the experience of the Lord’s year of favour. His message conveyed a clear insight into his own inner world and the fire that burned there. He loved God. He loved the world that God loved. He wanted the world to know its dignity and to learn to love in response.

John had spoken of the one who will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire [3:16]. Jesus saw his own life indeed as a baptism.

Jesus’ Baptism

To baptise means literally to plunge into water. Water is a universal archetypal symbol. 

Positively it symbolises:

    • purification
    • refreshment; 
    • life.

Perhaps the quiet immersion in the Jordan River practised by John spoke eloquently enough of those meanings.

But water also has negative echoes of

    • being swept along and drowning in powerlessness, 
    • destruction, 
    • chaos. 

At the first moment of creation Genesis spoke of the Spirit of God hovering over the waters. The image in the cosmology of the time was of waters of darkness, absence of order (chaos), struggle. The waters were the abode of the sea monsters, themselves symbols of the chaotic powers of evil. From the watery chaos the creating God brought forth life and order.

The baptism for which Jesus strained was his submersion into the chaos, his final showdown with the power of Satan, of evil. He would indeed be “the stronger one” spoken of by John. In the chaotic struggle he would in fact be killed, but he would remain faithful to his love for God and to his own integrity. From the chaos of his death would come new and unimaginable life - resurrected life.

The struggle of Jesus’ pending baptism was to be shared also by his disciples. He had already spoken of their call to suffering. He would specify one form of that suffering, particularly poignant: family divisions

51 Do you think that I confer peace on the world.  
Not at all, I assure you, but division.
52 From now on there will be five in one house all divided,
three against two and two against three, 
53 father against son and son against father,
mother against daughter and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.

The litany of divisions reflected the family reality of the day. Generally father and mother, the elder son and his wife, and any unmarried daughters shared the same family home. 

A deep sadness in the early Christian communities was the fact that some members might convert to Christ, others not. Those who did not convert saw the Christians as traitors to Judaism, particularly at a time when Judaism itself was experiencing threats to its survival. 

Family unity was not an absolute value to Jesus. He suffered rejection from his own extended family in Nazareth. And he was insistent that openness to the Lord’s year of favour overrode all other priorities. It was non-negotiable and urgent. His being the cause of division was not his intention. Families’ splitting up was consequence of the sin of the world that held people back from recognising truth and responding to it whole-heartedly.

Next >> Luke 12:54-58