Disturbing Love and the Warmth of Love
Jesus tells his disciples that he has come to set the earth on fire. Fire is frightening; it can burn up a city. And it also warms the heart. His is the warmth of love and companionship: when we know we can go to him just as we are, and enjoy the intimacy of his friendship. In chapter 3 of Luke’s Gospel, John the Baptist tells the crowd that he is baptizing with water, but someone mightier is coming who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. The fire Jesus speaks of here is the distress caused by the coming judgment. It is also the fire of the Spirit that Luke, in the Acts of the Apostles, will describe descending on the disciples on Pentecost. That fire will strengthen them to go out to the whole world to preach the good news of Jesus’ Resurrection. Jesus will be the first to experience the distress of the coming judgment. His baptism will be the conflict into which he will be immersed as he approaches Jerusalem and his death on the cross. His followers will not be spared that distress. Peace is the ultimate end of the Kingdom of God, but peace has a price. Jesus is warning the crowd that wherever the Word of God is heard and acted upon, division occurs. Fathers will be divided against sons and mothers against daughters.
The coming judgment forces us to look at the implications of our commitments. As Jesus warned in last Sunday’s Gospel, a commitment of faith requires us to change our attitude toward material possessions and to take even more seriously our moral responsibilities. Here he reminds the crowd that those who commit to him will find it affects the way they relate to friends and family members. Commitment to Jesus forces us to change the way we live our lives, and this can put strains on relationships. The message of Jesus may divide us, and if it does, the love of Jesus can unite us, for love is the most powerful gift of Jesus. The flame of God is the Holy Spirit. Jesus comes to bring all sorts of fire to the world, and to send the Spirit of comfort, justice, reconciliation and hope.