Year C: Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jesus; a Cause of Division.

Luke 12: 49-53

“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, the against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. When has being faithful to your religious beliefs brought division rather than unity to some of your relationships? Tell the story.
  2. In what ways is the fire of Jesus’ life and message burning in the day-to-day of your life?
  3. Identifying with Jesus, have you ever had to deliver truthful but bad news to someone? What were the circumstances?

Biblical Context

Luke 12:49-53
Patricia Datchuck Sánchez

Perhaps some homilists might be tempted to pass on this Gospel, with its hard statements, and choose a more attractive sacred text about peace, love and reward. Nevertheless, the divisiveness that Jesus’ words and works brought to bear on the world is an integral aspect of his message. As the climax of a section addressed specifically to his disciples (12:1-53), today’s Gospel represents a composite of three originally independent sayings, each dealing with the effect Jesus’ ministry and that of his disciples after him would have upon the world (vv. 49, 50, 51-53).

Some scholars have suggested that verses 49-50 are a glimpse into Jesus’ soul. By describing his mission in terms of fire and division, Jesus made it clear that there could be no neutrality regarding his words and works. He knew that the challenging character of his teaching would meet with growing opposition and hostility on the part of those who refused to accept the truth.

A familiar biblical symbol, fire was a frequent metaphor for God’s presence (Gen 15:19; Exod 3:2; 13:21-22; Jer 23:29) among the chosen people. Because of its destructive potential and its purifying qualities, fire was also a sign of God’s activity. The Day of the Lord had long been associated with the purging fire of God’s intervention (Zech 13:9; Isa 43:2; Psalm 66:12). In his desire (“how I wish”) to ignite this blaze, Jesus knew that he was to be the crucible whereby all of humankind would be judged, purified and refined.

Baptism, in this context, does not refer to the sacrament but rather to the ordeal Jesus would suffer at the hands of those who rejected him and his message. This image of being immersed or baptized in suffering may have been derived from one of the psalmists, who described his personal tragedy in similar terms. Psalm 124:3-5 reads, “When their fury was inflamed against us, then would the waters have overwhelmed us. The torrent would have swept over us… over us would have swept the raging waters.” Jesus’ baptism by suffering was more like water-boarding than a peaceful dip in the Jordan. Despite the anguish, Jesus persevered and endured all they heaped upon him for our salvation.

Jesus’ claim to be a source of division rather than of peace points to the crisis his very presence induced. Crisis, from the Greek krisis, means choice or challenge. By the radical nature of his person and his message, Jesus’ presence among humankind necessarily demanded a choice. Are you for him or are you not? There is no abstention from this choice. Those who accepted him and believed would be naturally set at odds with those who rejected him and remained without faith. Simeon had proclaimed this at Jesus’ presentation in the temple: “This child is destined to be the downfall and the rise of many” (Luke 2:24). To put it another way, in the person of Jesus, each human being is presented with an ultimatum; a choice for or against Jesus. The terms of this choice and its consequences are more binding than the blood ties that form and unite a family. How shall you choose?

Fire of Christ

Deacon Ross Beaudoin

Picture this: a blazing bonfire outside a parish church. Young and old surround it. The paschal candle is held high.

The priest begins with an invitation for all to enter into the ritual of this sacred night. The fire is blessed. The paschal candle is lit from the blazing fire.

The congregation moves into the church, carrying unlit candles. As the faithful reach their pews, the paschal candle enters the church. “Christ our light” is intoned. All respond, “Thanks be to God.” The flame of the paschal candle is shared. The paschal candle moves further up the aisle. “Christ our light; thanks be to God.” More flames are spread. Reaching the front of the church, a final “Christ our Light; thanks be to God.” The church is now ablaze with candles burning with flames that came from the one paschal candle lit from that enormous bonfire.

“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing,” we read in today’s Gospel.

At the dawn of creation, there was an explosion of fire and creative energy. Fire is a primordial element. Our sun is a glowing hot furnace. Without its energy, we could not live. The very interior of our own planet is a molten mass of fiery magma. Fire creates, cleanses and also destroys. But fire must be, in order for anything else to be able to be.“I have come to set the earth on fire …” That makes perfect sense.

On the road to Emmaus, two disciples were talking about their encounter with Jesus. “Were not our hearts burning within us?” They had caught fire with Jesus’ life and message. They were never the same again.

At our baptism, we — or our parents on our behalf — were presented with a candle burning with a flame from the paschal candle. “Receive the Light of Christ. Keep it burning brightly…”

Jesus knew the power of the fire that is God’s Spirit burning within him. Just as we use the phrase “baptism of fire,” Jesus identified his mission as a great baptism. “There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished.”

Jesus’ baptism by fire would include the cleansing and destructive qualities of fire as well as fire’s creative and light-bearing qualities. The fire of the Spirit in Jesus would burn away the destructive force of sin, bringing a new era of grace to humankind.

We need the light and warmth of the fire of the sun; we benefit from the cleansing rays of the sun. But we cannot look directly at the sun without the risk of destroying our sight. We need a lens to protect our eyes from the sun’s direct contact.

Jesus speaks of how the fire he is casting on the earth will have various effects. Jesus teaches that not all will accept the fire of his message and call. Each person must look through the lens of Jesus before they can approach the searing sun of Gospel grace. Some will choose not to take on the lens of Jesus, and will go their own way. There will be division; members of households will even be divided over the fire of the Gospel.

In our world today, relationships between individuals, groups and nations are at a crucial point. The fire of Christ must burn brightly and intensely. Christ’s fire must blaze in us.

As Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin wrote: “Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And then, for the second time in the history of the world, humankind will have discovered fire.”