Today, Now

Today, Now

Homily for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

August 14, 2022

Today, Now

Homily for Sunday, August 14, 2022
The Tenth Sunday After Pentecost
Luke 12:49–56

Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division!...  Father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother.

There are two schools of thought as to whether or not Jesus actually said these words.  The first holds that Jesus did say these words: “Why else would the evangelists have preserved such difficult and arguably ‘off-message’ words, except that Jesus really did say them?” argues this school of thought.  The second holds that Jesus did not say these words: “These words are so inconsistent with the rest of Jesus’ message that surely, at some point,” argues this school of thought, “a copyist’s mistake or similar introduced an error into the text.”  It’s hard to know which viewpoint might be correct.

Whether or not Jesus said these words, it is curious to note how Luke frames these words… and “frame” them, Luke does.  Except for the opening lines (about fire and baptism) and the concluding lines (about interpreting the appearance of the earth and sky)—all of which are unique to Luke—the center and bulk of today’s passage is similar to what we find in Matthew.  Matthew uses these same challenging words to let his readers know that belief in Jesus is likely to set “father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother,” because in Matthew’s setting—Matthew wrote to encourage a synagogue who followed Jesus as they were in conflict with neighboring synagogues who did not follow Jesus—belief in Jesus often did bring not peace but a sword (Matt 10:34); in Matthew’s setting it often was the case that (in Matthew’s words) “one’s foes [were] members of one’s household” (Matt 10:36).

But Luke’s setting is different.  Luke’s audience was thought to be Gentile, not Jewish.  Luke’s audience was thought to be “big-city” and cosmopolitan, not provincial. Luke’s audience was not experiencing conflict with or persecution from those around them.  Further, for whatever the reason—perhaps to show how the Holy Spirit was active in the world now; or perhaps because Luke wanted his readers to help, to “lift up,” the poor and lowly (e.g., 1:52) now; or perhaps because Luke wanted to show an important donor that belief in Jesus is making a difference in the world now (e.g., 1:3, Acts 1:1, and 17:6?)—today, now, is important to Luke.  And Luke’s urgency runs through his Gospel: after the healing of the paralytic, for example, the amazed crowds in Luke (and only in Luke) say, “We have seen incredible things today” (5:26); in Luke (and only in Luke), Jesus replies to those who warn him about Herod, “Go and tell that fox… ‘I am casting out demons and performing cures today’” (13:32); it was in Luke that salvation came to Zacchaeus’ house today (19:9); and in Luke (and only in Luke) Jesus reads in the synagogue from the prophet Isaiah and announces that “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (4:14).  For whatever the reason, there is an urgency in Luke: today, now, is important to Luke.

And so, as we just heard in the Gospel, Luke takes the same material as did Matthew about bringing not peace but division and about fathers and mothers against sons and daughters, but Luke frames it with urgency:

"I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” writes Luke, “I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!”


“You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?"

Luke’s urgency stands in contrast to the eternity of John, for whom Jesus was “in the beginning” (John 1:2) and whose “Advocate” would be with them “forever” (14:16).  Both are needed: both Luke’s sense of urgency and John’s sense of eternity.  Recall the Shaker saying: “Do all your work as though you had a thousand years to live and as though you were going to die tomorrow.”  Both Luke’s sense of urgency and John’s sense of eternity are needed.

But it is Luke and his sense of urgency that we focus on today: an urgency to proclaim the Gospel with boldness and to lift up the lowly now, to perform cures and cast out demons today; an urgency that for Luke is so important that it will not always feel like “peace” and sometimes will feel even like division; an urgency that may call for us to interpret the present time differently from those around us, perhaps so differently that Luke imagines we might set ourselves at odds with those in our own household.  And here a sidebar on households: My sense is that Luke is not trying to break up families, but that—taking our cue from Luke’s story of the conversion of the jailer and his family in Acts 16—Luke ultimately assumes that, if one member of the household becomes a follower of Jesus, the rest will follow.

Today, I invite us (as does Luke) to focus on today.  To follow now where the Spirit leads, to—and here I quote from the Prologue of the Rule of St. Benedict, a rule of life for a monastic order that is centuries old but focuses the monks’ and nuns’ attention on today

Run while you have the light of life…. While there is still time, while we are in this body and have the possibility to accomplish these things by the light of life, [to] run today and do now what will benefit us forever…. (RB, I.13,43–44)

For—God knows—we live in a world that can use God’s help, that can use our help, your help, now.

More Sermons