Refocused on the Family
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Analysis by Nathan C. Hall
49 “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52 From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they 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. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. 56 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?
The purifying fire of the Spirit frees us to live with God in righteousness and purity forever. By grace we are heirs in God’s family.
DIAGNOSIS: Family Focused
Step 1: Initial Diagnosis (External Problem): Family Allegiance
For a long time, allegiance to family has ranked high in the pantheon of American Christian virtues. Plentiful are the decorative manifestos hanging in people’s houses, and it does not take much googling to find a sign that reads “Faith, Family, Friends” or some such sentiment. Then too, “family” has become a code word for conservative culture, as in “Focus on the Family” or the tee-shirt slogan “Faith, Family, Flag, Firearms.”
Step 2: Advanced Diagnosis (Internal Problem): The Inadmissible Fact
Family is certainly among the highest goods we have in this life. Luther lists it amongst those things for which we pray when we say, “Give us this day our daily bread.” But, as with many good things, we let sentiment carry us away. We seek to quiet the restless longing of life with the promise of good times that will come as family gathers. Too often the satisfaction of such gatherings is fleeting, yet this fact seems inadmissible.
Step 3: Final Diagnosis (Eternal Problem): No Greater Good
God is the greatest good. Even the good of family cannot compare. Yet there are those who cannot bear for family to be supplanted in its primacy. Jesus’ call to follow him can tear a family apart, notwithstanding the fourth commandment—to honor one’s parents. It turns out that one can think of family in a way that is idolatrous, and Jesus says this idolatry will be met with fire.
PROGNOSIS: Baptized with Fire
Step 4: Initial Prognosis (Eternal Solution): Purified by Christ’s Spirit
Fire does not simply consume. Fire purifies. Later in Luke-Acts, fire is the sign of the Spirit’s anointing. So it is here. On the cross, Jesus joined our sin to his death. There sin was consumed. In baptism, Christ promises to join us not only in death but also in resurrection. There also the purifying fire of the Spirit frees us to live with God in righteousness and purity forever. By grace we are heirs in God’s family.
Step 5: Advanced Prognosis (Internal Solution):
Given new sight in baptism, we no longer cling so desperately to our earthly families as the source of all purpose and joy. Families are not the means to an elusive satisfaction. Instead, families may be loved as they are, as the companions we have been given on this journey, as those we are to serve, as those we love all the more freely because that love has no desperate need attached.
Step 6: Final Prognosis (External Solution): Loosening our Grip on Family
The one possessed by the gospel may well frame panegyrics to Faith, Friends, and Family. Those things are all wonderful gifts indeed. But the family is not under threat. There is no need for defense, no insecurity or fear driving the sentiment. Family is not an embattled virtue, it is God’s gift to us.