My Dear People,
Jesus continues the focus on his coming: I have come to set the earth on fire. This fire is different from what Elijah called down from heaven (9:54-55); 2 Kings 1:10). It is associated with a Baptism that Jesus still must receive: the words “fire” and “baptism” are emphasized in the Greek text as the first words in the two parallel sentences. John the Baptist had prophesied regarding one who was “coming” who would “baptize…with the holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16). The combination here of fire and baptism therefore looks forward to Jesus’ sending the tongues of fire at Pentecost, when the disciples will be baptized—that is, filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5). In the Father’s plan, this is the fire that will come down from heaven which Jesus longs to be blazing. Before the Spirit can be given in this way, however, Jesus must suffer “baptism” of his passion and death, to fulfill the Scriptures. Having set his face toward Jerusalem, Jesus is hard-pressed with this mission until it is accomplished.
John the Baptist, however, had also warned of a punishment by “fire” (3:9-17). The image thus signifies the judgment as well that will occur at the Son of Man’s coming (see 17:29:30).
These two different aspects—giving of the Spirit and judgment—are not surprising since Jesus must come as a sign of contradiction. He comes offering peace to those who accept it, but since some reject that offer, he brings division. This division will even affect household relationships: father and son, mother and daughter, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. Such was foretold by the prophet Micah:
For the son belittles his father, the daughter rises up against her mother. The daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, and your enemies are members of your household. (Micah 7:6).
However, after description of family strife, the prophet goes on to describe Israel’s regathering and restoration in Micah 7:12-15). Jesus thus foretells that there will be a time of tribulation in which Israel is divided over him. This will be followed by a time of restoration at his second coming (see Acts 1:6; 3:18-21; Rom. 11:17, 25-26). Jesus’ words also apply to people of every nation. In choosing to follow Jesus, disciples must be willing to bear with the divisions that may result among family and friends who do not share their commitment.
We notice in the first reading of how people did not want to heed the message of God through the prophet Jeremiah. They intended to kill Jeremiah, they threw him into a cistern, however the cistern was dry. Eventually he was pulled out before he died. The same conflict will occur in many situations. There will be people who will respond to the call of the Gospel; they will repent and they will make a commitment to follow the Gospel. However, even people in the same family will not want to make a commitment. That would not normally pose a problem, however, when it comes in terms of faith, those who follow Christ and those who don’t are opposed. Those who don’t are threatened by those who respond to Christ, and they want the rest of the family to stop the commitment that they have made to follow Christ.
Yours in Christ,
Fr. Vincent Clemente