Jesus said to his disciples: ‘I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were blazing already! There is a baptism I must still receive, and how great is my distress till it is over!
‘Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on a household of five will be divided: three against two and two against three; the father divided against the son, son against father, mother against daughter, daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law, daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’
Gospel reading – Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com
“Is there any fire in your heart?”
by Cl. Łukasz Burnicki SDB
Jesus said to his disciples “I have come to bring fire to the earth and how I wish it were blazing already!” Beginning this reflection, I would like to ask you: Is there any fire in your heart? Is there the fire of faith and love that was blazing in your heart on the day of your baptism? What is the temperature of your heart?
Let us look at our world. There are a lot of people whose hearts are more like ice-cubes than flaming torches. There are people who live in peace but without faith, hope and love.
Jesus has come to bring fire to the earth. This type of fire does not bring peace but prompts to action. When Jesus spoke to St Faustina he said: “Flames of my mercy burn inside me.” Jesus desires that flames of mercy burn brightly in the hearts of his disciples so that they respond when they encounter the homeless, the sick, the refugees.
If I don’t experience flames of mercy it means that I am still in darkness and cold. It means that I need to pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit to enkindle my heart.
One day I met a man who had just finished his prison sentence. As we chatted he told me that he had spent six years in prison. He had committed many crimes but still recognised what was good. “I would like to be good”, he said. Next day I saw him going to confession.
I don’t know what happened to him since. But I do believe that the fire of Divine Mercy that had touched his heart has not given him peace but has given him the power to fight sin and weakness.
As we conclude this reflection I would like to ask you once more – Is there any fire in your heart? Fire similar to that which burns in the heart of Jesus – fire similar to that which touched the repentant prisoner.
by Fr Juan José Bartolomé SDB
Introduction to Lectio Divine
It might seem that this gospel passage, which is surprisingly radical, presents an unusual image of Jesus. It is not the gentle inoffensive Jesus we are well used to. It is not the Jesus, meek and humble of heart, that we like to remember. But it is an image of Jesus we should get used to, one that we would do well to remember. The harshness with which Jesus expresses himself in this gospel passage is a fair reflection of his person and his thought, the reason for his life and the demands he makes on those who follow him.
This image of Jesus who came to cast fire on the earth and to divide families may seem exaggerated and may make us downright uncomfortable, but it not false. It is one we would never invent. It is the truth. Who ever said that living with Jesus was going to be easy?
Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it
This Gospel passage is in two parts, very different in content and addressed to very different people. It is actually made up of two short sayings of Jesus. In the first of these (Lk 12, 49-53), Jesus discloses his own intimate identity to his disciples, revealing the awareness he has of who he is and in what his mission consists. In the second part (Lk 12, 54 -57), Jesus is speaking to the people. He urges them to discern what is happening and to draw their own conclusions.
To all his followers, Jesus reveals the passion that consumes him as he journeys towards his death. He uses the image of fire to describe the rapid and irresistible evangelizing force that drives his personal mission. He came to cast fire on the earth and he longs for the mission to be completed. We are surprised at the severity of the words he speaks to his disciples: his personal mission is to set fire to the earth, and his fervent wish is that it be burnt up as quickly as possible.
Fire spreads quickly and its power is unstoppable. It is a good image of the passion that is burning in Jesus for the accomplishment of the task he has been given. Likewise, baptism by immersion is an image of the death that will overtake him. The image of fire refers to the mission he has received. The trials of baptism indicate the personal price he will have to pay. He acknowledges that the price is very high – a baptism of blood. The knowledge of it fills him with anguish from which he will be freed only when it is accomplished. He wants all his followers to know that they will not escape unscathed. Following a master who is impassioned is bound to create passion and division, even in the best of families. This tragic prediction probably reflects the situation of the early Christians whose faith in Christ caused deep divisions among family members. The people listening to Jesus were farmers, well capable of foretelling what was going to happen. Jesus tells them to use that skill to understand what was going on around them. They were able to interpret what was happening in the sky, reading the signs of the clouds and the wind, and so they were prepared for the next day’s weather. But they did not capture the deep, hidden meaning of what was happening day by day – the passing of God in their midst. Of what use is it if he gives judgement, and they do not recognise that his judgment is right?
Meditate: apply what the text says to life
As he was going up to Jerusalem, Jesus foresaw the tragic end that awaited him and he was overcome with the presentiment of a violent death, his baptism of blood, an end that will affect all his followers. He foretells his death and tells all his followers that they will not escape untouched by it. He knows that this is happening so that the judgement of God, in the form of fire and division, may be realized, and he longs for it to happen as soon as possible, but he does not hide the fact that he will have to pay a heavy price. The divine intervention is inevitable, and so also is man’s reaction.
The fact that Jesus is preaching this means there is time to prepare for it. The anguish he feels does not diminish the consequences of the decision that will be taken, but shows the gravity of the moment and makes the personal implications all the more dramatic.
Even the strongest human relationships will be affected by the decisions taken in his regard. Divisions will arise even among those who love each other. We cannot remain neutral in regard to Jesus. Being on his side implies sharing his destiny.
It is hard to know whether we should marvel more at the foresight with which Jesus predicts his end or his determination and haste in facing it. Jesus becomes the friend of his disciples, revealing to them the mission that guides his life and his desire to accomplish it. The disciples who are closest to him are the ones who know his secret best and the passion that drives him.
If Jesus shares his most intimate convictions with his followers, it is to encourage them to remain faithful in following him. Closeness to him and sharing his secrets is already a reward. The closer they follow him the greater familiarity they have with him. It is worth being close to him, despite the suffering it brings. By having Jesus as their daily companion they get to know the passion he has for God.
We might like to forget the danger, but this does not make it any less real. Certainly if we tried to understand it, his extreme radicalism would seem a bit less strange. We would become captivated and prisoners of his powerful personality. If we remember when those extraordinary words were spoken, it will help us to understand them.
Jesus was undertaking a journey to Jerusalem, one which he knew would cost him his life. The tragic end makes the journey not less worthwhile but more so. He is not worried that his life will be taken. His desire is to give his life. He came with a mission and he is anxious that it be fulfilled. It is not that he does not see the danger, or that he underestimates the consequences. He declares his anxiety that all be fulfilled. He is suffering because he knows he will suffer, and he suffers until that moment comes.
Neither the final fear nor his understandable anxiety will separate him from his mission. Foreseeing his end and conscious of his fears, he does what God wants of him – he goes up to Jerusalem to meet his destiny.
When we get over our admiration at contemplating how very human Jesus is, and how very determined, it would be good for us to try to understand the reason for this attitude of his. If we discover his secret, what can stop us from following his example? It is easy to guess the secret: only someone who is completely passionate could speak in such a radical manner and with such disregard for his own interests.
And this is precisely what Jesus was all through his life, a man with only one passion. He came from the Father and he lived only for God. He had no other task in life than getting to know God and bringing God near to all who had need of him, especially those who were furthest away and most vulnerable.
So urgent was his mission that he tolerated no delay and no excuses. So important was it that he did not share it with anyone, and so important that he was totally dedicated to it. There was nothing unusual in this for one for whose whole life was dedicated to God and his kingdom, with no other dreams and no other concerns. Is it unreasonable for one who burns with passion to want to conquer the world?
If we compare ourselves to Christ who was so passionate, even extreme, we would have to admit that the Christians of today are not just reasonable but downright mediocre. We are convinced, as a result of our many small betrayals of our conscience, that to be good Christians it is enough not to be altogether bad, or to want to be better.
We always desire from God more than he gives us, and for that reason our relationship with him is never easy and we are never completely satisfied. We bargain with him and we find it hard to give him what he asks of us. We are incapable of living with a single passion, living only for God, and we fall victim to other passions. Jesus teaches us that we can be happy by doing God’s will even if it means suffering.
It would be good, then, for us to ask ourselves, in his presence, if we really want to follow this Jesus who turns our beliefs and our way of living upside down. There is no doubt that those who follow him will not escape untouched by his zeal. His passion will eventually touch our lives too.
Jesus himself told this to the disciples who were with him on the way to Jerusalem. Once Jesus reveals his unconditional passion for God and his kingdom, it stands to reason that he will not tolerate indifference or delay on the part of those who want to be his companions for life.
Those who come too close to the fire get burnt. Jesus is the fire that burns, the passion that touches those who come near. In saying this to his disciples, Jesus is warning them. He knows that they do not yet feel the same zeal that he does for the kingdom, but he wants them to know that if they are to follow him, they must have that zeal and passion. They may still be lukewarm, but he is confident that their being close to him will change them, and he hopes that his fire and passion for God will be kindled in them.
We can see better how radical the conditions for following him are from the consequences he foretells. It is inevitable that families will be divided because of him. Not only that, but he has come to sow the seeds of discord. It had not yet been said that his mission would involve disunity among families. The passion for God can – and in the plan of Jesus, must – create jealousy and divisions within the home and the family, among the people who are nearest and dearest.
Anyone who does not share his passion for God is not worthy of Jesus. Jesus cannot find a home, nor can his followers, where there is no zeal for God. Harsh as these claims may sound to us, they sound no worse now than they did to the people who first heard them.
In Jesus’ time, the family was the most important social unit if not indeed the only one. It was there the individual received all he needed in order to live. Breaking off from one’s family meant being socially marginalized and a life that was extremely precarious and quite suspect. Jesus is not too worried about the fact that his followers may lose their families, as long as they find God. Jesus does not seem to measure the consequences when it is a question of defending his love for God.
Far from being disobedient and unfaithful, this demand is an example of what must be done. Even the love of children or spouse or brother or sister may be risked, but not the love of God. Nothing on earth is so sacred as to be preferred to God.
For Jesus, as for every Jew of his time, family life was the most sacred of the things on earth, the one thing that could not be renounced. By taking this example, Jesus makes it clear that nothing in life, no matter how good it may be, should separate us from God. Nobody we love or are loved by deserves the attention we give to God. If even family life must give way before God, then there is nothing in life that can resist the passion for God.
This does not mean that those who opt for God must cut themselves off from their family members, as happened in the case of Jesus. It means, above all, that the passion for God cannot be shared with other passions, no matter how legitimate they may be. When God enters someone’s life, being detached from one’s family does not really matter. The one who is in love with God has no time and no desire to cultivate other loves.
Rather than admiring this passion of Jesus for God, we should fear it, because he demands the same of his followers, and he imposes it on his disciples. Before going to Jerusalem, he warned his disciples, and today he repeats the warning for us: if we do not want to lose him, and lose ourselves, we need to share his love and his passion for God in order to share the journey and the goal with him.
If we gave the same importance to God that he gives to us, then many other things would be less important to us. Following someone like Jesus passionately cannot bring other goods. If we have more than one cause, then we create division in our environment. The disciples must know that opting for Jesus means separating themselves from their dear ones, sometimes even violently.
Disciples who renounce their family to preach the kingdom of God cannot be accompanied by others who are burdened with family ties. That is not all. Jesus tells his disciples something even worse! Opting for him can bring about the disintegration of families, traumatic separation and irreconcilable divisions for his sake. Those who leave their family to follow Jesus do not leave it in peace.
Jesus does not promise much to those who follow him. He has come to bring fire, not peace. The passion that Jesus has for God and for his kingdom does not allow for mediocrity or compromise. It is not meant to be comfortable, or peaceful, living with someone who is spreading fire everywhere. But surely it is better to live attracted by a passionate Jesus then to go around looking for other pastimes and entertainment that only add to our inner emptiness.
If that is the case, then it is good that Jesus points out to the people listening to him that they should observe carefully what is happening around them, and learn to discern better. It is not much use being able to predict the rain or the heat, if we are not able to recognize what God is doing in us and around us.
What use is it trying to foresee what is going to happen if we do not recognize what is already happening? It is no use foretelling the future is we do not understand the present. For as long as Jesus is setting fire to the earth, we cannot foresee what kind of weather there will be tomorrow. Probably, like the people of Jesus’ time, we are losing the most important thing, God and his kingdom, just by worrying over the future and the sun and the clouds.
you have prepared for those who love you
what no eye has seen, no ear has heard.
Fill our hearts with your love,
so that, loving you above all and in all,
we may attain your promises
which the heart of man has not conceived.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.