Sunday, August 18th 2018 - Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
What does Jesus mean when he says, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” It does not sound like good news...
The invocation of fire can have multiple meanings. Fire is both destructive, and life giving. It can cleanse and purify or utterly destroy. In the bible, fire is a form of the Divine presence, as in the pillar of fire that accompanied the Hebrews in the desert, and as an image of judgement, as when God warned that “my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them”, and the fire and brimstone that rained down upon Sodom and Gomorrah to their destruction, or the fire that consumed the offerings upon the altar, a pleasing sacrifice to God, and also as the Holy Spirit who came down, looking like tongues of flame, and rested upon the disciples at Pentecost. Fire is powerful, beautiful, terrifying and mysterious!
Who is the Holy Spirit? He is the “love between them”, between the Father (the lover) and the Son (the beloved). The Holy Spirit, as God and Jesus are, is eternal. The Holy Spirit has been referred to by Jesus as the “helper” the “advocate” the “paraclete” and the “consoler”, and “the Spirit of truth” and of the prophecy of John the Baptist when he foretold the disciples would be baptized by Jesus with the Holy Spirit and with fire”. It was the Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead.
Jesus brought to us the purifying fire that would cleanse us of impurities and restore us to goodness. It is our final baptism, by fire, that purifies, separates, and destroys. The Refiners Fire, which separates the pure from the impure and burns off the impurities. Fire is the transforming energy of the Holy Spirit. Our divine life is given to us in the Holy Spirit.
When Jesus then says that he has not come to establish peace on the earth, but rather division, and that households would be divided against each other, it doesn’t sound like the Good News either. But we must have total context and understanding of this verse so that it doesn’t upset us. The fire that purifies, separates and destroys, can also bring things together. Jesus is making an example to his disciples that it will not be an easy road for them, as they will be opposed by many, including their own family. But, all things will be refined, cleansed and made whole again, so what is temporarily torn apart will be brought together in the healing fire of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus passed through death into new life by the shedding of his innocent blood for the sake of our sinful blood, that we, too, may pass from this life into new life. Paul tells us over and over again that we have been made new, the old is gone! Paul tells us that we have been crucified with Christ, that we no longer live as ourselves, but Christ lives IN us, and that as long as we live in the FLESH we live in FAITH in the Son of God who has given himself up for us.
In the 2nd reading for this Sunday, the author of Hebrews describes how we are surrounded by many “witnesses”, people still in the flesh and those who have already been transfigured, who know and understand about ridding ourselves of every burden and sin and how to “persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus”. His final words ring all too true for us, I am afraid, “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.” In other words, we still have not resisted sin – are we afraid?
Jesus, for the sake of joy that was to come, endured the cross so that we may not lose heart in our own struggle. Jesus, who, for our sake, did everything and endured everything first, so that we would see that on the other side of that endurance was JOY! Jesus not only resisted sin but fully renounced it in his own blood.
We are also dispensers of the Holy Spirit, as the Spirit lives within us and works through us. As disciples we can help bring about the baptismal burning of the earth that Jesus craves. Can you understand now why Jesus would love for the refining fire to cover the earth? Don’t you wish the entire earth was burning now? Because what would that mean?! That all would be purified, separated, and corrupt things destroyed, and all things made new!