– LUKE 12:49-57
– Fr Fernando Armellini SCJ
Claretian Publications, Macau
What is the fire that Jesus came to bring on earth (v. 49)? Why does he say of not coming to bring peace, but rather division (v. 51)? Today’s Gospel combines a series of rather enigmatic sayings of the Lord.
Let’s start with the images of fire and baptism (vv. 49-50). After the flood the rainbow appears in the sky, a symbol of peace restored between heaven and earth. God swears: “Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth” (Gen 9:11). From this promise, a conviction is born and spreads in Israel that, to cleanse the world of iniquity, God would no longer use water, but fire: “For by fire will the Lord execute judgment … against all mortals” (Is 66:16). The Baptist also announced the coming of the Messiah with threatening words: “He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire … . The chaff he will burn in everlasting fire” (Mt 3:11-12). Jesus also speaks of fire and, after him, almost all the authors of the New Testament.
What is it about? It is natural to think of the final judgment and eternal punishment that awaits the wicked. Not so fast! Maybe the Baptist and the disciple James and John imagined it so. The two brothers wanted to call down fire from heaven against the Samaritans (Lk 9:54), but surely not Jesus.
The fire of God is not intended to destroy or torture those who made mistakes. It is the instrument with which he wants to destroy evil and purify us from sin.
Now we can make sense of the exclamation of Jesus: “How I wish it were already kindled!” (v. 49). It is the expression of his burning desire to see the weeds are soon destroyed. Malachi announced: “The day already comes, flaming as a furnace. On that day all the proud and evildoers will be burned like straw in the fire” (Mal 3:19). Jesus looks forward to the realization of this prophecy. He already sees the rising of the new world wherein there will be no more space for the wicked. These will disappear, destroyed by the irresistible flame of his love.
The message of Jesus is a fire and—logically—who has the goods to be protected, buildings to be preserved is not keen to see the arsonists. The Gospel is a burning torch that wants to reduce to an immense fire all the unjust structures, the inhuman situations, discrimination, greed of money, the frenzy of power.
Who feels threatened by this “fire” does not remain passive. He opposes by all means. He reacts violently because he wants to perpetuate the world of sin. It is at this point that the first misunderstandings burst, then division and conflict, finally persecution and violence.
Union is not always good and should be approved. Union must be sought from the Word of God, from the truth. Peace founded on lies and injustice, cannot be favored. It must at times provoke, with much love and without offending anyone, healthy divisions.
One must not confuse hatred, violence, offensive, and arrogant words—which are incompatible with the Christian choice—with the honest challenge, disagreements that arise from new, evangelical proposals. These are needed, even if painful, especially when involving members of the same family.