Read Luke 12:49-59
49 “I have come to set the world on fire, and I wish it were already burning!50 I have a terrible baptism of suffering ahead of me, and I am under a heavy burden until it is accomplished.51 Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I have come to divide people against each other!
52 From now on families will be split apart, three in favor of me, and two against—or two in favor and three against.
53 ‘Father will be divided against son
and son against father;
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother;
and mother-in-law against daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’”
This is a really hard text. In fact, if I’m being honest, it is one that I wish wasn’t part of scripture… because I’d rather not have to try to sort this one out. But the more time you spend in scripture, the more you will discover text like this one — texts that make us uncomfortable or that chalenge our image of God or that don’t allow us to keep Jesus inside the box we’ve created for him. But what do we do with a text like this? Do we just allow ourselves to be uncomfortable and move on? Do we try to soften it in some way to make it more palatable? Do we highlight these texts in a particular color in our Bibles so we know to avoid them whenever they come around?
One of the most helpful tools I have come across is the following matrix:
I learned this matrix from the team at 3dMinistries in the context of learning to create and shape a highly supportive and highly challenging environment for discipleship. The premise behind this lens is that Jesus was the master of calibrating invitation and challenge which allowed the disciples to grow and thrive and multiply Jesus’ life through their own. the kind of environment we long for and are pursuing in our church is reflected in the upper right-hand quadrant. I have found this same matrix to be helpful when looking at difficult texts like this one from Luke 12.
So, in a text like this one typically our eyes are immediately drawn to the challenge. We read, “Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I have come to divide people against each other!” and think, “Jesus can’t possibly mean that, can he? Isn’t Jesus suposed to be the embodiment of peace? Does he really intend do bring division to families? Shouldn’t Jesus be bringing families together rather that splitting them apart?”
Here’s where the lens of this matrix comes in to play. First, we start with the understanding that Jesus is good, and that he fully intends to make good on God’s promise to love and provide and care for us (Invitation). However, responding to Jesus’ call and following him will always eventually lead us out of the “cozy” quadrant where we tend to reside. Jesus wants to lead us into the upper right quadrant. He wants us to be empowered and engaged with him in building a discipling culture, but it is virtually impossible to jump directly from “Cozy” to “Empowered.”. The paradigm of Jesus’ life exposes that which doesn’t look like or operates counter to the way Jesus leads, and as soon as that happens, it no longer feels cozy and comfortable because it means change (Challenge). When challenge increases it almost always creates a tension or a stress in us that is best illustrated by the lower right quadrant on the matrix. We don’t want to live in this quadrant, but the path to empowerment goes through it.
I can say with great confidence that Jesus goal is not broken or divided families. I can say with great confidence that Jesus ultimate goal is peace and unity, not division. That being said, the reality is that the path to these ultimate realities will be one that initially creates disruption and division. My encouragement to you in reading this text (or any text like it) is to cling to the promise — the invitation of Jesus, but allow the tension that his challenge creates in you. Jesus will accompany you in this tension. Don’t run from it! Instead, lean in to it. Trust that the stress and tension is a symptom of that which is in you that is not part of and has no place in Jesus’ life being expressed in and through you.