Cycle [C] 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

 Jer. 38:4-6, 8-10; Heb. 12:1-4; Lk. 12:49-53

The Bible tells us that Jeremiah, like many of the prophets of the Old Testament, was frequently persecuted during his lifetime. He was mistreated by the king and his officials. He was caught between his obligation to be a prophet and fear of his life. But he served the Lord until the end. The first reading shows that God’s message would bring discomfort for many. The Gospel emphasizes the same message.

During today's reading from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says, "I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!"

From Genesis to Revelations the Biblical Books speak of Fire.  Fire is often used, either symbolically or literally, as an instrument of divine wrath, exercised against sinners, both Israelites and Gentiles.

Isiah prophesied, “For with FIRE and with his sword the Lord will execute judgment upon all men, and many will be those slain by the Lord.” In Lamantations we read, “The Lord has given full vent to his wrath; he has poured out his fierce anger.

He kindled a FIRE in Zion that consumed her foundations.” Jeremiahproclaimed judgement on the people, “I will punish you as your deeds deserve, declares the Lord. I will kindle a FIRE in your forests that will consume everything around you.” The Psalmist spoke of the consuming fire, “At the time of your appearing you will make them like a fiery furnace. In his wrath the Lord will swallow them up, and his FIRE will consume them.” Luke wrote, “His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable FIRE.”

But more than Divine wrath Fire is closely linked with the presence and the power of God. It stands as a symbol of life. 

God appears to Moses in a fire—a burning bush, and transformed the adopted prince in exile with an identity crisis into a liberator of slaves, and a leader of the Exodus. God provided a pillar of fire to lead them at night once they left Egypt.

John the Baptist, in both Matthew and Luke, tells his crowds that even though he baptizes with water, Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 

The Pentecost is a story of fire, of tongues of flame descending on the believers as part of the manifestation of the Holy Spirit – the presence and promise of God with them.

Throughout scripture fire is used to demonstrate God’s presence. The words of Jesus today, “I have come to bring fire to the earth,” means, in part that he brings the presence of the almighty, the presence of the Holy, the presence of God into our very midst. And while this means that some things are going to burn. It also means that something new will be created out of the ashes.

Each of us carries the spark of that Fire upon our hearts. We are called by God to pass the igniter of that spark on to others. That igniter is the hope we receive in Christ. He wants us to spread His message to all. With each new believer the fire spreads a little further around the world. More people come to know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour everyday.

In 30 A.D. there were roughly 500 people who believed that Jesus, son of Joseph of Nazareth was the Messiah. Among those who did not believe him to be the Messiah included his brothers James and Jude. However by 60 A.D., more than 15,000 people from Judea to Rome believed Him to be the Messiah, including His brother James who would die for His beliefs at the hands of the Sanhedrin.

By the middle of the Second Century A.D., a little over a hundred years after the death of Jesus, His followers had spread from the British Isles to the steppes of Russia, to port of Carthage, the jungles of India, and the Kingdom of Ethiopia. Furthermore it has gone from being just a back water Jewish cult to being considered a threat to the Roman Empire. And yet the fire continued to spread.

In 312 AD Christianity became the religion of the entire Roman known world. Followers of Christ now ranged from all the way into remains of the Persian Empire. All this was in the short span of 300 years.

Now we are near to seeing Christ’s prophecy fulfilled as the Gospel is being received worldwide. Each day new peoples hear the Word for the first time in their language. Each day a new heart is opened to the Holy Spirit.

Accepting God’s message would bring divisions. Families will be divided. Societies will be divided. Kingdoms will be divided in the name of Jesus.

The division which Jesus speaks of here has several features. There is a division which occurs within the family, in which the closest human bonds are to be found. History has borne testimony to the fact that the gospel divides men and women, husbands and wives, parents and children, for faith in Christ requires ultimate allegiance to Him. 

Afghanistan an Islamic state by constitution does not permit any faith other than Islam to exist. To convert to a faith outside Islam is tantamount to treason because it’s seen as a betrayal of family, tribe and country. Very often, there is only one possible outcome for exposed and caught Christians: death. In Afghanistan converts are considered literally insane to leave Islam. As a result, some may end up in a psychiatric hospital and have their homes destroyed. 

Estimates suggest that 99 percent of Somalis are Muslims, and any minority religions are heavily persecuted. The Christian community is small and under constant threat of attack. In fact, persecution of Christians almost always involves violence. Additionally, in many rural areas, Islamic militant groups regard Christians with a Muslim background as high-value targets—often killed on the spot when discovered. 

This is the case in many countries. The polarization that began from the time of Jesus has been continued throughout the centuries. It will never end. Jesus’ words speak of the inevitable consequence of his message. Divisions are foreseen, and divisions and conflicts have been a constant reality because the Christian gospel makes great demands. The challenge is to continue to speak the truth with love in spite of opposition.

Jesus has come to “bring fire to the earth” because some things that exist in our world have to be destroyed in order for something new, beautiful, and life-giving to emerge. And that is the mission of the church and each one of us.