Jesus bringing fire to the earth

Homily for the Twentieth Sunday of Year C

by Fr. Tommy Lane

The introduction has been omitted

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 the 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 till 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 till it is over.” Let us not be so foolish to think that the devil does not exist. Every attempt at good is attacked in one way or another. Notice also in the Gospel today 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.

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)

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013

This homily was delivered when I was engaged in parish ministry in Ireland before joining the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

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