As some of you may know I was a firefighter for the City of St. Francis for four years while I was in the seminary. After I was ordained a priest, I was the chaplain for the Milwaukee Fire Department for 27 years. So when I hear our Lord say in today’s Gospel to his disciples: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing” that can be rather frightening. We all know how destructive a fire can be. A house totally destroyed or the huge wild fires out west give testimony to the power fire has. We think of our Lord as the Prince of Peace, not one bringing harm and division upon the world.
We must remember that Jesus’ mission was as much to challenge as to comfort. As another saying goes, “His message is a two-edged sword to comfort the afflicted and to inflict the comfortable.”
In Jewish thought, fire is almost always the symbol of judgment. So then, Jesus regarded the coming of his kingdom as a time of judgment. The Jews firmly believed that God would judge other nations by one standard and themselves by another. The very fact that a person was a Jew would be enough to absolve them. As Catholics and Christians we can fall into the same mistake. As much as we wish to eliminate the element of judgment from the message of Jesus, it remains stubbornly and unalterably there.
The essence of Christianity is that loyalty to Christ has to take precedence over the dearest loyalties of this earth even over our families as we read the conclusion of the Gospel today. A person must be prepared to count all things as loss for the sake of Jesus Christ. As disciples, we are challenged to remain faithful, no matter what. Have we been set on fire in our commitment to our faith?
Love, Peace, Joy