This coming Sunday is the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time for Lectionary Cycle C. The gospel reading begins: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! It is a gospel that needs context!
Throughout Luke 12 Jesus has continued to call for people to “see,” a message that has been present since the beginning of the mission of the 72 disciples at the start of Luke 10. A message made clear upon their return: “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I say to you, many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.” (Luke 10:23-24). Along the continuing journey to Jerusalem each person becomes an opportunity for Jesus to help them (and the crowds) to see more clearly, more richly: the scholar of the Law in Luke 10:25 ff; Martha and Mary (vv.38-42); the disciples in Luke 11, as well as the Pharisees in that same encounter; and Jesus continually speaks so that they will become “rich in what matters to God” (Luke 12:21) as it announces the Kingdom of God – something hinted at back in Luke 2:11 but made clear in Luke 4:34: “To the other towns also I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God, because for this purpose I have been sent.”
The Kingdom’s arrival is meant to usher in an era of peace and unity, yet ironically, here in Luke 12 its announcement is the initiator of division. Yet it is divisive because it requires decision and commitment in the face of a coming judgment (Luke 12:4-10), clearly told in the parable of the Rich Fool (vv.16-21).
In our Sunday reading (vv. 49-53) the Word of God is a refining and purifying fire. As Culpepper  notes, “The announcement was foreshadowed by Luke 3:16, where John claims that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. In the same context, fire is used as an image of God’s judgment (3:9, 17; cf. 12:49; 17:29). Ironically, when the fire comes upon the disciples in Acts, it is not the consuming fire of judgment but the purifying fire of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, the crisis of judgment is never far away (see Mal 3:2–3)….With the coming of the Spirit, the work of the church, and the approach of the kingdom, division and strife would be intensified. Jesus is saying, ‘Let it start now!’”
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