Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (18 August 2013)



  • Isaiah 5:1-7 and Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19
  • Hebrews 11:29-12:2
  • Luke 12:49-56


First Reading: The vineyard of the Lord

This week’s passage from Isaiah offers a prophetic parable that would later be taken up in the traditions associated with Jesus, as the parable at 046 The Tenants.

Second Reading: Exemplars and encouragers

The reading from Hebrews 11 and 12 continues on from last week. As the catalogue of heroic people of faith gets longer the information provided about each character reduces until eventually we are simply given a list of categories:

And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.

Interestingly, not all the events are known to us from extant stories. Even where we do know the traditions to which the author refers they are not always from the canonical traditions of the Hebrew Bible. This list provides a glimpse into the diverse religious literature of the Second Temple period and the popularity of holy adventure tales among people at the time.

The concluding metaphor of the faithful life as an athletic competition in the gymnasium may not strike us as bold, but it cuts right across ancient Jewish taboos on participating in such events (where the athletes were naked). Despite the profound interest of the Letter to the Hebrews in esoteric Jewish traditions (angels, Melchizedek, temple priesthood, sacrifices, etc), we seem to have a community that is both familiar with the Hellenistic gymnasium and comfortable using it as a metaphor for the holy life.

Gospel: Jesus, cause of division

As noted in last week’s notes, Luke has an extended section (Luke 9:51-19:28) in which Jesus is depicted as traveling from Galilee to Jerusalem and where Luke’s treatment of the material differs significantly from Mark.

One of the aspects of discipleship addressed in that material concerns the controversy and division that could erupt when someone became a Christian. Much as Luke likes to portray Christians as model citizens with a respect for good order, he had to address the reality that Christianity caused division within families and communities, and that discipleship could be costly in social terms.

The tradition found in Luke is mostly from the Sayings Gospel Q, and in most cases also has parallels in the Gospel of Thomas. This double independent attestation from two very early sources underscores the primitive character of this tradition. To be a disciple was to be embroiled in confict with one’s own kin.
Fire on Earth

  • Jesus said, “I have cast fire upon the world, and look, I’m guarding it until it blazes.” (Thom 10)
  • “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” (Luke 12:49)

Jesus’ Baptism

  • I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! (Luke 12:50)

Peace or Sword

  • Jesus said, “Perhaps people think that I have come to cast peace upon the world. They do not know that I have come to cast conflicts upon the earth: fire, sword, war. For there will be five in a house: there’ll be three against two and two against three, father against son and son against father, 4and they will stand alone.” (Thom 16)
  • Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 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.” (Luke 12:51)
  • “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. (Matt 10:34-36)

Knowing the Times

  • They said to him, “Tell us who you are so that we may believe in you.” He said to them, “You examine the face of heaven and earth, but you have not come to know the one who is in your presence, and you do not know how to examine the present moment.” (Thom 91)
  • 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. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. 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 12:54-56)
  • He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. (Matt 16:2-3)

These sayings are part of a wider set of traditions that set Jesus in conflict with conventional attitudes towards the family as the primary social reality in the ancient world. See especially the following items:

In commenting on this conflict in The Historical Jesus, John Dominic Crossan (1991:299-301) writes of the way that it cut across the generations of the traditional patriarchal family:

The family imagined [in Q] has five members: father, mother, son, daughter, and son’s wife, all living together in the one household. “Note,” as Bruce Malina advises, “that there is no mention of son-in-law, since it was the new wife who moved into her husband’s house, not the husband into the wife’s family” (1981:101). I emphasize immediately that this is not simply saying that families will be split over Jesus, with some believing and some disbelieving. The division imagined cuts between the generations, the two parents against the three children, and vice versa. But it does not tell us which group is on Jesus’ side. We cannot presume that parents are against Jesus and children for him, or vice versa. Indeed, the point is not belief or disbelief at all. It is, just as in Micah 7:6, the normalcy of familial hierarchy that is under attack. The strife is not between believers and non-believers but quite simply, and as it says, between the generations and in both directions. Jesus will tear the hierarchical or patriarchal family in two along the axis of domination and subordination. Second, and even more significant, is that the division imagined cuts across sex and gender. That point is underlined by the version in Gospel of Thomas 16, which, despite having “five in a house: three will be against two, and two against three” gives only one example, and that the dominant male one: “the father against the son and the son against the father.’ That obscures the saying’s point: the split is between generations but across the genders. There can be women just as much as men on the side of Jesus, or on the other side for that matter. I return to that point below in considering Jesus’ missionaries, but even now it is already apparent: what happens to women if the patriarchal family is split asunder?

A similar point is made with 89 Hating One’s Family [1/2], although the protagonist of the saying is given in masculine gender. The opposition is with one’s “father and mother … brothers and sisters” in Gospel of Thomas 55:1-2, “father and mother” in Gospel of Thomas 101, “father or mother … son or daughter” in Q/Matthew 10:37, and “father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters” in Q/Luke 14:26. In other words, whatever number of generations are mentioned, both genders are always in question. I incline, therefore, to read 89 Hating One’s Family [1/2] in the light of 74 Peace or Sword [1/2] as referring, despite its male format, to both genders. Jesus, on the other hand, refuses to get involved in 97 The Disputed Inheritance [1/2], in which sons disagree over the father’s inheritance. He is not that kind of divider.

Finally, there is 15 Against Divorce [1/4], an especially well-attested saying of Jesus. The formulation of the divorce law in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 is strictly anthropocentric: “when a man takes … marries …writes … puts … sends …” It concerns how a husband divorces a wife and says nothing whatsoever about how a wife divorces a husband. It does not have to do so because the law does not allow it. Unlike, say, Greek, Roman, or Egyptian law at the time of Jesus, Jewish law did not allow the wife to initiate divorce proceedings. Adultery, furthermore, was also androcentric. It was always a crime against male honor and male rights. Seen against such a cultural situation, the texts in 15 Against Divorce [1/4] are strikingly anomalous. That is not because both 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 and Mark 10:10-12, but not its parallel Matthew 19:9, have adapted Jesus’ saying to a wider Greco-Roman ambiance — they therefore forbid divorce either by husband of wife or by wife of husband — it is because the saying of Jesus situates itself directly in the androcentric tradition of Jewish Palestine but says,

(1) Every one who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery,
and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.
(Sayings Gospel Q: 1[or 2?]Q: Luke 16:18 = Matthew 5:31-32)

(2) Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. (Mark 10:11)

(3) If he put his wife away and marry another he also commits adultery himself.
(Shepherd of Hermas, Mandate 4.1:6b)

John Kloppenborg has seen most clearly the implications of the term “adultery” against the Mediterranean background of an anodrocentric or even phallocentric honor and shame ideology. “By saying that the male who disembeds his wife and remarries commits adultery against her … Jesus implies that honor is not (only?) androcentric — I use the term descriptively rather than pejoratively — but (also or equally) gynecentric. Honor is still understood as a pseudo-commodity but it belongs as much to a woman as it does to a man. Hence a man can ‘steal’ his own wife’s honor by divorcing her and remarrying … In Palestine of Jesus’ day, which did not permit women to initiate a divorce, the dignity of women was not … easily guarded. It is for this reason that Jesus uses the dramatic term ‘adultery’ in so surprising a way. He thus brought sharply into focus the wife’s honor. It is as much to be protected and respected as the husband’s honor and the woman is as vulnerable to damage as the male” (1990:195). The opposition here is not just to divorce. To forbid divorce one has only to say that divorce is never legal. That is exactly what happens in the much less radical 252 Moses and Divorce [2/1]. The attack is actually against “androcentric honor whose debilitating effects went far beyond the situation of divorce. It was also the basis for the dehumanization of women, children and non-dominant males” (1990:196). When 74 Peace or Sword [1/2] is read in conjunction with 15 Against Divorce [1/4], Jesus sets parents against children, and wife against husband, sets, in other words, the Kingdom against the Mediterranean. But not just against the Mediterranean alone.

That final flourish from Crossan’s word processor underscores the challenge implicit in this week’s Gospel. How are the values and assumptions of our society at odds with the Kingdom values proclaimed by Jesus? Is the lack of division between the generations and across the genders a sign that we no longer hold to any alternative values with sufficient tenacity to alarm or alienate those who disagree with us?

Jesus Database

Liturgies and Prayers

For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt’s web site

Other recommended sites include:


Music Suggestions


  • Glorious things of thee are spoken – AHB 374
  • Through all the changing scenes of life – AHB 30
  • Your hand, O God, has guided – AHB 389


  • This day God gives me – AHB 570
  • Celtic Alleluia – TiS 257
  • Servant Song – TiS 650
  • Here I am, Lord – TiS 658

See David MacGregor’s Together to Celebrate site for recommendations from a variety of contemporary genre.

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