Jeremiah 38.4 – 6, 8 – 10. Psalm 40. Hebrews 12. 1 – 4. Luke 12. 49 – 53.
Fire is frightening; it can burn up a city. These days we hear reports about wildfire, heat waves in many parts of the world causing loss of life and livestock. Fire also warms the heart, when we sit back, watch the flames and chat, think or pray. Jesus came to bring fire on the earth. His is the warmth of love and companionship: when we know we can go to him just as we are, and enjoy the intimacy of his friendship – the friend who is always offering the gift of his heart to each of us.
We have read the past history of many people who lost their lives and good names because of their imprudent ‘do-or-die’ faith acts. For example, prophet like Jeremiah who was seduced by the Lord and induced by Him to preach what people hated to hear. “This man ought to be put to death,” the princes said to the king; “he demoralizes the soldiers who are left in this city, and all the people, by speaking such things to them; he is not interested in the welfare of our people, but in their ruin.” (Jer 38:4) and so it was with Jesus. We know what happened to him in his public ministry. He was isolated cornered, criticized, blamed, stoned, driven out, scourged, crucified, killed and buried because he began setting the earth on fire with his words. His disciples who followed his way, were glad they were beaten and punished and killed for the sake of Jesus’ fire. There are innumerable martyrs an saints who witness the death-wish of Jesus.
Jesus said in the Gospel today, “I have come to bring fire to the earth and how I wish it were blazing already.” (Luke 12:49) Jesus has come to bring the kingdom of God to earth and how he wishes the kingdom of God were already established everywhere on earth. The fire Jesus came to bring is the fire of love, the fire of hope. Bringing fire to the earth, doing anything good, is going to run into the opposition of evil. Jesus said, “There is a baptism I must still receive, and how great is my distress until it is over.” (Luke 12:50) Baptism means going completely under the water. Jesus described the opposition he received as a baptism which would ultimately end in his death. “There is a baptism I must still receive, and how great is my distress until it is over.” The devil exists so every attempt at good is attacked in one way or another. The Gospel today says that attempts to do good will automatically cause division: Jesus said a household of five would be divided, three against two and two against three. The five in the house are the father, mother, son, daughter, and daughter-in-law. Well, it could be worse, it could be four against one and one against four, and we all know who that poor one would be, don’t we? The daughter-in-law of course! It is interesting to note that the Gospel does not state that unity is the highest goal. Bringing fire to the earth is the highest goal. Standing up for what is right, working for justice and truth are higher aims than unity, and working for those aims will sometimes cause division. Jesus came to bring fire to the earth, the kingdom of God. As a result of it he would receive a baptism of distress, he would be crucified, and there would be division.
We can think of many people who had fire in them to do good and they had to undergo a baptism of suffering as a result. For example, think of the ways in which these people who received the Nobel Peace Prize suffered: Nelson Mandela imprisoned; Simon Peres in Israel. Think of Pope John Paul II whose fire is standing up for the right to life of the unborn. We think of the fire in politicians in the North of Ireland to bring about a negotiated settlement to the northern problems. Those are dramatic examples of bringing fire and being baptized and experiencing division. But there are everyday examples closer to home. Think of the fire in parents to do the best for their families. Think of the fire in parents with children on drugs to make sure that the problem is solved. Think of the fire in parents whose child was abused to make sure that it doesn’t happen to any more children.
I am sure we all have some fire in us to do something good for those around us. Maybe some of us have fire to do something more than normal but are afraid of the baptism or afraid of the division that might be caused and so the fire doesn’t come to anything. Is it possible that half of the fire in the world doesn’t come to anything because 50% of people are pleasers and placatory? They will go along with what is disagreeable to them for the sake of peace. It is interesting that the Gospel today places bringing fire to the earth as a higher aim than pleasing for the sake of peace.
“For the sake of the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God. Consider how he endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart.” (Heb 12: 2 – 3) We too know those who had lived up to this death-wish of Jesus became troublemakers. St. Francis of Assisi, St Theresa of Child Jesus, and Mother Gaberini are some among then. There are some such troublemakers even in the political world. George Washington, for example, fought a revolutionary war to free the colonies from foreign rule. Abraham Lincoln wage a civil war to save the union of the North and South. Susan B. Anthony launched the women’s rights movement that is still a bone of contention, in our society. Martin Luther King divided the country in his crusade against racial segregation.
We play a mild and prudent role in our life journey. However there is a feeling of emptiness in us, who have time to sit and reflect on our Baptismal commitment. As a matter of fact, we have been able to play it down and have learnt to hide this emptiness or vacuum in our life. Are we not dead even before we die? We should for a while reflect over this coldness or indifference to our Christian call of ‘do-or-die’ faith and try to make a restart of our call, to follow the death-wish for our Master. That’s the reason for “keeping our eye on Jesus, the author and perfecter”; for he has run the race too.
If you have fire in you and haven’t yet done anything with it, think of Archbishop Oscar Romero. After Fr. Rutilio Grande, S.J. was murdered in El Salvador on March 12, 1977, for speaking against injustice, Archbishop Romero became very outspoken. That was the beginning of the turn-around in El Salvador. Oscar Romero had been quiet and timid before becoming a bishop. He was 60 years, and not long ordained a bishop, when he protested at the murders. So, if you’re 58 or 59 and think you still haven’t brought good fire that is within you to the earth, remember Archbishop Oscar Romero; life begins at 60. Jesus said, “I have come to bring fire to the earth and how I wish it were blazing already.” (Luke 12:49).
The warmth of Jesus brings comfort and hope to the world when we live in isolation from each other, lack of friendship and hope. When we lack the reconciliation and justice that makes life possible among us, then the warmth of God’s love for all can inflame our coldness.
There is also the fire that disturbs; love challenges as well as comforts. The flame of God can be frightening in that it demands a world of justice, peace and reconciliation. The fire of this love is the fire that also warms and comforts.
The flame of God is the Holy Spirit. Jesus comes to bring all sorts of fire to the world, and to send the Spirit of comfort, justice, reconciliation and hope. The message of Jesus may divide us, and if it does, the love of Jesus can unite us, for love is the most powerful gift of Jesus.
A saying has it — he has come to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.
Holy Spirit, flame of God, hover over each of us, as you did for the followers of Jesus at the first Pentecost.