For the text of Luke 12, click here.
We began with a warning about the “leaven of the Pharisees”. In the previous mentions in Mark 8 and Matthew 16, it had been a little confusing but this one is much more straightforward. Jesus warns them and adds that people will know everything that’s been going on. This addition isn’t in the other versions. Previously, this warning was followed by the confusion of the disciples and therefore me as a reader. They took the statement literally and were confused about the lack of bread surrounding the statement on leaven. Here, Jesus mentions the leaven and then that things will not be hidden in the time to come. He even specifies that their leaven is hypocrisy. It’s an interesting comparison because leaven is supposed to be what makes bread rise, so beware the things that makes them bigger. I also thought of it as a reference to the Feast of the Unleavened Bread during the first Passover.
The speech goes on to include the crowd. He basically says to not fear the people around them now but to be afraid of the one that can cast them into hell. I appreciate the sentiment, as opposed to the way we normally here such things. It’s one thing to say to be more afraid of hell than earthly judgement, but it’s different when the impetus is to follow for fear of hell. It’s the same point made in one of the Greek plays I had to read for college once. Antigone does something the king had specifically forbidden but that was an essential part of their religious beliefs. When brought before him to make her case, she simply says that when they contradict, she will follow the laws of the gods over those made by men. Jesus makes the point that the law of God has a higher price than the law of man. The local judge can’t do anything else to you once your body is gone, but God can throw you in hell.
A parable about abundance follows. The story is similar to one I recently read in Braiding Sweetgrass. Someone has a year of abundance, stores what they can, and then gets lazy. The stories diverge a bit in the after effects, but the overall sentiment is that abundance is to be honored and shared, not hoarded and taken for granted.
The idea of living in abundance and free from worry about scarcity continues through the next few sections. Jesus doesn’t want them to “be anxious” about their own existence because God will provide it. To me, this gets into the whole “for all people for all time” argument. I can’t say that I think that this applies to everyone always. They have patrons that sustain them. It gets back to the idea of Martha and Mary in chapter 10. Someone must do the work for it to be done. At the same time, letting it divide people or become a stone to throw at each other isn’t the right answer. At the churches that I’ve been to, there has been a message of what people are “called” or “led” to do. I’ve read books on other spiritual practices that come back to the idea that we can practice even mundane household tasks with the thought of it as a gift to the world or the people around us or even God. It’s interesting how many spiritual practices seem to come back around to that idea.
Still, this is Jesus telling them not to worry about those basic life skills or necessities because God will provide. Will he provide in the form of others to do the work or will they come upon that which is ready for them? It may not seem like an important distinction but we’ve seen a little bit of it. The farmers don’t harvest the whole crop, from a law back in Leviticus, on account of travelers and the poor to eat. Is this why they shouldn’t worry? But what would happen to the world if this were an everyone of all time message? Would we be eating the wild strawberries we find on the side of the road and trusting God that we will see more food? Or is it just to not give as much concentration as worry costs us because we are constantly surrounded by food and generosity?
I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility for us to be surrounded by food and generosity if we had ever opened ourselves up to the idea that it will always be there and we don’t have to hoard it. I go back to Braiding Sweetgrass and how that seems to be the way that some have lived.
The following story about a master and servant sheds a little light on this too. I don’t think all people for all time should worry, because the bounty will be there, it always has been if we weren’t greedy with it. I recently finished The Story of More which elaborates on the ways in which we have enough to feed everyone if we didn’t do exactly what Jesus tells us not to. At the same time, there is work involved and the way He talks about reconciling it is interesting.
He kinda seems to say that adage which Spider-Man has beautifully summarized as: With great power comes great responsibility.
In the story, Jesus talks about a servant left in charge who takes advantage of all the other servants and doesn’t take care of the things his master has left him in charge of. For this he is punished.
Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.Luke 12:48 ESV
The section on peace and division is confusing for me at first. There is some stuff in the study section that talks about this division being according to believers and unbelievers, which is reasonable, but the language messes me up. Not here to create peace but division? I feel like this is one of those times when the concept was easy to remember in a retelling but not the details. I know the rest seems to have details enough, but something about this just throws me. Like it would be more on consistent to say that He knows His presence will cause division rather than that He is actively seeking it. Why would the goal not be to have the whole family as believers? It just isn’t consistent this way and it doesn’t go as well with the last two paragraphs.
Jesus goes on to talk about how to recognize what’s happening around us and our own efforts to reconcile. If we tie it all together instead of making those three separate messages, then we see that Jesus is telling us that His presence and message will cause discord among us but that if we recognize what is happening and resolve it before we die, we’ll be better off.
It seems all of His messages in this chapter are about doing what’s right by each other and the land to live in community rather than beating each other over the head with laws.