By Elizabeth Baumann

A Reading from the Gospel of Luke 12:49-59

49 “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52From now on, five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53they will be divided:
father against son
   and son against father,
mother against daughter
   and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
   and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

54 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. 55And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. 56You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

57 “And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? 58Thus, when you go with your accuser before a magistrate, on the way make an effort to settle the case, or you may be dragged before the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer throw you in prison. 59I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.”

Meditation

Lately, Americans have heard a lot of lament over how divided we are. But here is this lesson with Jesus himself saying he came to divide us — to divide even families. Division is somehow inescapably part of the very way of the gospel. And that feels terribly uncomfortable, horribly wrong.

Didn’t Jesus come for reconciliation? Yes — but in a surprising way. Jesus came — became incarnate, lived, suffered, died, rose, ascended, and sent the Holy Spirit — that we might be reconciled to God, and only then truly reconciled to one another. He did not come so that we might be reconciled to one another apart from God. Unity begins with the Holy Trinity, and thus true unity is made possible among all those whose lives are hid in the life of God. It makes a particular tragedy of a broken Church. But we ought not be surprised — though we are rightly grieved — by divided nations, groups, or families. Even the unity Jesus forged for us is, in a sense, division, because he doesn’t force everyone to choose it, and some do not. If we make human unity the aim rather than a consequence of choosing God, we abandon God’s gift altogether. And maybe that teaches us something about unity itself: unity is a consequence of coming together, and the means to some other, greater end — not the goal alone.

Of course Christians should strive for unity in the world. Blessed, after all, are the peacemakers. Precisely because we are united in the life of the Trinity, we should understand the gift that unity is, and that we were made to reflect God’s image in unity. We just have to keep everything in its proper order, and not get lured to a false goal in the strife of division all around us.

Elizabeth Baumann is a seminary graduate, a priest’s wife, and the mother of two small daughters. A transplant from the West Coast, she now lives in “the middle of nowhere” in the Midwest with too many cats.

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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

Diocese of Rochester (England), the Rt. Rev. James Langstaff
Diocese of Rochester (the Episcopal Church), the Rt. Rev. Prince Singh
Diocese of Kushtia (Bangladesh), the Rt. Rev. Samuel Sunil Mankhin (Primate)

All Saints Episcopal Church, Jacksonville, Florida