We have all seen the commercials wherein a crabby person isn’t quite acting like himself and then they eat a Snickers and everything returns to normal. The tag line is “You’re not you when you are hungry.” In one commercial, the guy turns into a cranky old man. In another commercial, two people turned into Joe Pesci and Don Rickles. I think they are both pretty funny and again, oddly enough, have a place in teaching us a little bit more about the Faith.
In the Gospel on Sunday August 18th (Luke 12:49-53) it seemed liked Jesus needed a Snickers bar, didn’t it? In some ways, it seemed like Jesus was fairly grumpy. He didn’t quite seem like Himself. Maybe He was hungry. Was He just having a bad day or was there something more to it?
In this particular Gospel, Jesus was not speaking as we typically imagine…there was no holding hands, forgiving sinners, or curing the blind or lame. No, this Gospel quotes Jesus saying that He came to set fire to the Earth and to cause divisions within families. Jesus said that He wanted to light it up! Some people may imagine this Jesus as the one that cleared the crooks from the Temple as opposed to the Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount. But to think that Jesus was just having a bad day and needed a Snickers would be missing the point. Jesus was not having a bad day and He (probably or hopefully) wasn’t hungry. If anything, he was the one providing us the food! He was simply preaching the Truth…preaching Himself. And it is that Truth that will set the world ablaze both now and in eternity.
So lets start with some history. We know that the Jews thought that there would be peace when the Messiah came (see, e.g. Psalms 72). In the Old Testament, Isaiah said that the Messiah would be a Prince of Peace and that he would bring peace. Even Ezekiel talks about a new covenant of peace. Throughout the Gospels, we hear Jesus preaching peace and love. How many times did he say “Peace be with you”?? Of course, this can lead us to imagine that truth and love are all ice cream and rainbows. So what’s going on with this Gospel passage??? What happened to all of the talk of peace replaced by the talk of fire and division? Sounds more like Hell than Heaven?!?
Well, lets be as simple as possible. His message today is an invitation to salvation but it also includes exactly what it sounds like…a little bit of Heaven and of Hell. If we think in terms of Heaven, we see that His message is an invitation to embrace Him as the Messiah and to embrace the Truth. If we think of it in terms of Hell, we see that His message is also a warning that division will come and that we better be on the right side. AHH! I know that you aren’t seeing that last part about Hell in this passage. Well let me help a little bit. Let’s look back in Chapter 12 and ahead in Chapter 13 of Luke for some more insight.
Throughout the 12th chapter of Luke and actually into Chapter 13, Jesus is talking to large crowds (it would be good to read up until at least Chapter 13 verse 9!). He is telling them that they need to turn away from false teachers, turn away from fear, and turn towards God because time is short. He is telling them to not be afraid of men but to fear God who has the power over their souls. In fact, from this point forward in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’ tone becomes more serious and ominous. He begins to warn the people of what will happen if they do not repent.  Who among us would want to be cut down like a tree that doesn’t bear fruit?!?! If we look at the Gospel message through this lens, it is not nearly as surprising that Jesus is speaking seriously and right to the heart of the matter.
So back to the whole idea of division…just how would He bring division? He would bring division through a single event, His death on the cross, that would separate the people into two categories – believers and non-believers – those who repent and accept Him as the Messiah and those who do not. This separation would take place both in time and eternity. It would take place on Earth and in Heaven. It took place then, is taking place now, and will continue to take place in the future…for all of eternity actually. This division is not one of peace but of tribulation. So let’s look at these concepts a little bit more.
If we look at this division through the lens of “time,” we know that those who believed in Him would go out, spread the Good News, and would face persecution, division within their families, and maybe even death. In modern times, the same is true. For many of us, the division could happen with family and friends. In fact, I would argue that the division must occur in our lives. Living for Jesus means dividing ourselves away from the culture of death, away from worldly possessions and, if necessary, away from the people that would lead us astray.
If we look at this division through the lens of “eternity,” we know that those who believe in Him, who repent and change their lives, will eventually enter into paradise. Those who didn’t or don’t…well…we know what happens to them…and that’s where the concept of fire comes into play. Not to be dramatic…but its true!
Speaking of fire, Jesus said that he wants to set the world on fire. This isn’t simply the fire of judgment or hell that we just mentioned. It is also a fire of purification. As we know, fire can consume and destroy everything that can be burned, e.g. wood, paper, and the like. But for things that cannot be burned, e.g. metal, fire can purify. The same is true with Jesus and the Gospel. The Good News of the Gospel consumes and destroys the things of this Earth that are temporary but purifies the soul that is eternal. Similarly, in the end, the things of this World (and the prince of this world) will forever be destroyed in fire. However, for those who are on the right side of the dividing line, they will be purified and made perfect as their Heavenly Father is perfect.
After talking about setting the world on fire, Jesus then goes on and wishes that this fire were already kindled. But just what would kindle such a fire? The answer seems fairly straightforward and Jesus even alludes to it in His very next statement. It is His passion, death, and resurrection that would enkindle the fire. He is literally the kindling that is set ablaze by the wrath of the Father. His person is consumed by punishment of God when He takes all of our sins upon Himself and offers Himself in our place. That is why He says that He wishes the fire was already started. He wishes that it was already over and done with.
But since the fire was not yet kindled, Jesus then explains how it will happen. To explain this concept, he uses a word that was understandable at the time….baptism. But this is no ordinary baptism of being dunked in the hot tub…err…”baptismal font”…in the back of the church. Nope. Jesus is talking about His baptism into suffering and death that will enkindle the fire. Why else would be talk about anguish and suffering until it is over? It’s probably awkward to jump into the “font” at the back of the church…but it wouldn’t be agonizing!
Ok, so back to the text. The word Baptism has its roots in Greek that refers to immersion in something. In the Sacraments, Baptism refers to immersion in water. But Jesus is using the word baptism to refer to immersion in suffering, death, and punishment…for our sins! He even refers to this baptism in the Gospel of Mark where he asks the Sons of Zebedee whether they can be baptized in the same way that He is going to be baptized.
So going back to the question of division…when was that going to happen again? It happened after His baptism into suffering, His death on the cross, and His resurrection. Quite simply, these events caused the world to be divided at the time and continue to cause the world to be divided today. A person is either faithful or unfaithful, a believer or non-believer. If we really want to speak in plain English then we can say that….In the end…forever…a person will be in Heaven or Hell….period. There is no other way. That is what the Gospel, the Resurrection, and the fire do. They will either consume the non-believer in the fire of destruction and judgment or will purify the believer in the fire of purification and prepare that soul for eternal paradise.
So when we think back on this Gospel, let’s not think of Jesus as having a bad day and needing a Snickers. It’s not Jesus that needed the Snickers…it’s us. He wasn’t the hungry and grumpy one. We are! He is the one trying to save us. He just happened to use some more serious words and concepts this time around. He was just being a little more blunt this time. Remember, love and truth is not all ice cream and rainbows…or should I say Snickers and rainbows. Maybe the creators of Snickers got their slogan right…we are not ourselves when we are hungry…lets just make sure that we are hungering for the right things!
 Thanks to Fr. Tim Birney for this idea and to Jon McArthur for help in explaining these verses
 Isaiah 9:6; 55; 66.
 Ezekiel 34; Ezekiel 37: 24-28
 Luke 12: 56, “You hypocrites. You know how to analyze the appearance of the earth and the sky. Why do you not analyze this present time?”
Luke 12:58, “..your adversary may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison.”
Luke 12:59, “I tell you, you shall not get out of there until you’ve paid the very last cent,”
Luke 13:3, “Unless you repent, you will all perish.”
Luke 13:9, If you don’t bear fruit, you’re going to be cut down.
Luke 13:24 “Strive to enter by the narrow door for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” There will not always be an opportunity.
Luke 13:28, “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out.”