The Personal Cost of Causing Division

Herb Montgomery | August 12, 2022

To listen to this week’s eSight as a podcast episode click here.


“Our reading this week calls to mind times when we have also had to make decisions about speaking out against things we feel are unjust or harmful and facing division or controversy as a result. How many times have we found ourselves in a situation where doing what we feel is right or speaking out would involve a personal cost?”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, 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 daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.

He said to the crowd: When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, Its going to rain,and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, Its going to be hot,and it is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you dont know how to interpret this present time?” (Luke 12:49-56)

The context of this week’s reading is Jesus looking ahead to his arrival at Jerusalem and the demonstration or protest he will engage in there. He will flip the tables of the moneychangers, that protest will cause an uproar, and he will receive pushback that might cost him his life.

A word about the language Luke uses here. The metaphorical imagery of Jesus as a fire starter held different meanings in different versions of the Jesus story. In the gospel of Thomas, for example, fire is something that Jesus kindles and guards till it blazes. This makes fire a good thing that symbolizes the growing Jesus movement itself.

In Luke, however, this rhetoric conjures a more dangerous connotation: social and political conflict. These are the connotations I want to emphasize this week. Jesus’ internal conflict was not with his own Jewishness or his Jewish tradition. He struggled with the economic, political, and social harm he saw being committed against those his society had made vulnerable, and with what he felt he had to do in response.

The language of baptism (immersion) is also a metaphor for the concrete hardship or distress that Jesus’ protest and speaking out could possibly cause. In this passage we are reading of a Jesus who is in distress on one level but also resolute and embracing the reality that he will cause division and the personal cost that will involve. He doesn’t wish to avoid it but rather wishes that it was already over.

It’s also noteworthy that the divisiveness that Jesus is talking about will thoroughly permeate his society’s social structures, all the way to the family unit. The family unit in 1st Century Judea and Galilee was the central economic and social structure of Jesus’ society.

Our reading this week calls to mind times when we have also had to make decisions about speaking out against things we feel are unjust or harmful and facing division or controversy as a result. How many times have we found ourselves in a situation where doing what we feel is right or speaking out would involve a personal cost?

I think of whistleblowers who have to make these difficult decisions.

I think, too, of social truth tellers in religious and nonreligious contexts who suffer personally because they chose to speak truth rather than silently go along with things they knew were harmful.

I don’t quote Leo Tolstoy very often anymore, but this week’s reading reminds me of a statement that I love:

“And therefore you cannot but reflect on your position as landowner, manufacturer, judge, emperor, president, minister, priest, and soldier, which is bound up with violence, deception, and murder, and recognize its unlawfulness. I do not say that if you are a landowner you are bound to give up your lands immediately to the poor; if a capitalist or manufacturer, your money to your workpeople; or that if you are Tzar, minister, official, judge, or general, you are bound to renounce immediately the advantages of your position; or if a soldier, on whom all the system of violence is based, to refuse immediately to obey in spite of all the dangers of insubordination. If you do so, you will be doing the best thing possible. But it may happen, and it is most likely, that you will not have the strength to do so. You have relations, a family, subordinates and superiors; you are under an influence so powerful that you cannot shake it off; but you can always recognize the truth and refuse to tell a lie about it. You need not declare that you are remaining a landowner, manufacturer, merchant, artist, or writer because it is useful to mankind; that you are governor, prosecutor, or tzar, not because it is agreeable to you, because you are used to it, but for the public good; that you continue to be a soldier, not from fear of punishment, but because you consider the army necessary to society. You can always avoid lying in this way to yourself and to others, and you ought to do so; because the one aim of your life ought to be to purify yourself from falsehood and to confess the truth. And you need only do that and your situation will change directly of itself.” (Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God Is Within You, pp. 263-264)

In this week’s reading, Jesus stands within his own Jewish prophetic tradition, where the prophets speak out against the unjust actions of the centered rich and powerful harming the poor and marginalized.

How many times have we been told not to be divisive in our time? There is a time to push for unity, and there is also a time when division is holy, just, and good.

The Hebrew scriptures remind us:

“There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under the heavens:

  a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

  a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

  a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

  a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

  a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

  a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

  a time to love and a time to hate,

a time for war and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

Yes: there is a time for unity and there is a time for division.

My burden this week is that each of us will have the wisdom to discern the difference, that we will have the wisdom to recognize where calls for silence are coming from. Is it the privileged who are warning us not to rock the boat? Will division be harmful to those we are trying to help, or is the division simply threatening those who are benefiting from an unjust system.

One last word about Luke’s Jesus.

In this week’s passage, Jesus is engaging in resistance and speaking out, not promoting passive endurance of injustice. He is also not choosing to die, as feminist and womanist theologians have explained. (See Christianity, Patriarchy, and Abuse: A Feminist Critique by Brown and Bohn, Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk by Williams, and Proverbs of Ashes: Violence, Redemptive Suffering, and the Search for What Saves Us by Parker and Brock.) He’s rather choosing to hold onto a life-giving ethic even when threatened with an unjust execution. He’s answering not whether he is willing to die but how badly does he want to live. For me, these are not semantics. The difference informs how I myself respond to injustice and abuse.

I desire us to have wisdom and also to have courage in these kinds of moments: courage to bear the personal costs we will suffer when we are called to “instigate” division for the sake of what is right.

Our reading concludes with clouds on the horizon and a coming storm. This could reflect Luke’s (and possibly also Matthew’s) beliefs in a coming eschaton (cf. Matthew 16:2-3). It could also indicate that Jesus saw that injustice is not sustainable and that, eventually, societies that benefit a few by harming the masses will break down. When they do break down, it harms us all.

In the end, it’s harm reduction and mitigation that is moving Jesus to speak out. It is the reality of this harm to everyone that outweighs the personal cost he will suffer for speaking out.

What can this week’s story say to you when you, too, are called to speak out?

HeartGroup Application

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2. Share an experience in your own life where you were faced with similar decisions as we see in this week’s reading. How did things turn out? Discuss with your group.

3.  What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone?

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



Begin each day being inspired toward love, compassion, action, and justice.

Go to renewedheartministries.com and click “sign up.”

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 Envisioning a World of Care

broken chain

Herb Montgomery | August 5, 2022

To listen to this week’s eSight as a podcast episode click here.


We don’t see Luke’s Jesus traveling around passing out tickets to heaven; instead we see him teaching a more socialized way of living here on earth that could lift up the marginalized and downtrodden from the harms their society was committing against them.


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke.

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak.

“But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (Luke 12:32-40)

The first portion of this week’s reading centers on Jesus’ ethic of resource-sharing and wealth redistribution as a universal expectation for all of Jesus’ followers. This is the same ethic Jesus called individuals to elsewhere in the gospel stories (see Luke 18:22, Mark 10:21, and Matthew 19:21). But in Luke, this ethic of sharing and redistribution was not for isolated individuals in specific situations, but for every able Jesus follower.

There’s a similar principle in the companion book to Luke’s gospel, the book of Acts:

“Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostlesteaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:41-47, emphasis added)

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And Gods grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. (Acts 4:32-35)

This is the basis for the story of Ananias and Saphira (Acts 5) and the story about the Hellenistic widows in the early Jesus movement being overlooked and not receiving shared resources (Acts 6).

Most Christians exclude this practice from their Jesus-following today but early Jesus followers couldn’t exclude it. It was expected that Jesus followers would practice this principle. We don’t see Luke’s Jesus traveling around passing out tickets to heaven; instead we see him teaching a more socialized way of living here on earth that could lift up the marginalized and downtrodden from the harms their society was committing against them.

Jesus’ vision of a human community was simple: If you find yourself with more than what you need, be the one to provide for those who have less than they need, and hope that one day, if you have less than you need, we’ll have created a community where someone who has more than they need will share with you.

It’s a competing vision for organizing our world. We can follow the path of rugged individualism where isolated people place their assurance in how much wealth they have hoarded to provide for themselves and their needs. Or we can follow the path of Jesus, where we are investing in one another and creating a community that shares resources so that if we ever have needs, we also have each other. No matter what the future brings, we can face it together because we have each other’s back.

This is how I interpret the following passage:

“Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

I don’t interpret this as people storing up treasure “in heaven” for people to enjoy after they are dead. Rather this is about storing up treasure in the ethics of heaven, storing up treasure in a way that couldn’t be stolen or destroyed, and storing up treasure in people, in community, where no thief or moth can touch. Community is Jesus’ solution to our challenge of survival and thriving.

As I shared last week from the work of James Robinson:

“[Jesus’] basic issue, still basic today, is that most people have solved the human dilemma for themselves at the expense of everyone else, putting them down so as to stay afloat themselves. This vicious, antisocial way of coping with the necessities of life only escalates the dilemma for the rest of society.” (The Gospel of Jesus: A Historical Search for the Original Good News, Kindle location 138)

We can store up wealth or invest in building communities where we take care of each other. For wherever our treasure is, there our hearts will be also.

The next part of our reading transitions away from resource-sharing and wealth redistribution and focuses on examples of watchfulness and alertness.

This is another place in the Jesus story where we must be honest about context. The authors of the early Jesus story never assumed a world where some humans were not owned in some form by others. All the way to the final book in the New Testament cannon, we still encounter the language of masters and slaves.

As much as I wish the writers of our sacred texts had had large enough imaginations to envision a world without slaves, the fact is that they didn’t. But today, as Jesus followers, we can and must do better. Rather than using the scriptures as a justification for injustice when we encounter it, we can be honest about the shortcomings of our sacred texts and take the ethics of love, compassion, justice and mercy, the golden rule, etc. to their logical conclusions and applications, further than the authors of our texts could or did. Today we can work toward a world with no more masters and no more slaves. As Marx and Engles used to say, “we have nothing to lose but our chains.”

Lastly, I want to address an unsettled debate among Jesus scholars today. There are two camps among scholars of the historical Jesus. One believes that Jesus, like John the Baptist, Paul, and Paul’s Christian converts, subscribed to apocalypticism and believed the world was about to end. The other camp believes Jesus did not hold this view but was laying down ethical teachings that could become a long-term lifestyle here on earth, a way of living that was salvific in the sense that it saved us from structures of violence, oppression and injustice offering a different way of ordering our world. (If this debate is new to you, let me recommend a small, introductory book: The Apocalyptic Jesus: A Debate by Robert J. Miller and Dale C. Allison Jr.).

This debate has practical implications for how we choose to live today. Were Jesus’ ethical teachings of resource-sharing and wealth redistribution a short-term way of living because the world was about to end? Does that mean that we cannot possibly be expected to practice them long term or apply them to our lives today? This interpretation would be very convenient for the billionaire class or a capitalistic society!

Or, much more challenging, was Jesus different from John the Baptist and Paul in this sense? Was he laying down a livable ethic of community and taking care of one another that we can apply to our lives long term and use to organize our societies and economies in a different way? Was Jesus imagining a world where we didn’t live by a system that produced winners and losers no matter how many had equal opportunity to play the game? Or was he imagining a world where everyone had what they needed to thrive?

There are signs of this ethic in the ancient Hebrew story too:

“The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed.” (Exodus 16:17-18)

I believe the ethics we find in the Jesus story are livable, and regardless of where we land on scholarly debates about the historical Jesus, I hope that we can agree that a world where we take care of each other rather than leaving each person on their own to take care of themselves is a much better world to live in and the kind of world we would all want to live in.

This topic can lead us to heated discussions about things like taxes, wealth limits, redistribution, universal health care and child care, universal basic income, and more. And when I look around at today’s disparities and the harm being produced, these are discussions worth having.

There’s a lot to ponder here. How does our Jesus story where Jesus tells his followers, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor” have any application to our economic challenges today?

HeartGroup Application

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2. What are some present-day applications to current political and economic debates around economic justice in our society today? Rather than labelling positions as liberal or conservative, grade various opinions along a spectrum from closer to far away from the world-vision we have been reading in the past two weeks here in Luke. Discuss with your group.

3.  What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone?

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



Begin each day being inspired toward love, compassion, action, and justice.

Go to renewedheartministries.com and click “sign up.”

Free Sign-Up at:

https://renewedheartministries.com/Contact-forms?form=EmailSignUp