“I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were blazing already!
There is a baptism I must still receive, and what constraint I am under until it is completed!”
Wow, what did Jesus mean by this? Today’s Gospel gives us rare insight into Jesus’ heart, and we see how passionate Jesus is to do the Father’s will, despite knowing what it will cost Him.
Fire, as mentioned in the Bible, can mean various things – it has been used for destruction as in Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:23), but also for sanctification just as metal is purified by fire (Isaiah 1:25, Zechariah 13:9). At Pentecost, the power of the Holy Spirit descends upon the church, manifesting as tongues of fire (Acts 2:3). And in today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of a baptism that He will undergo, reminding us of John the Baptist’s words, “…I baptise you with water, but someone is coming… [who] will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
“Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”
Jesus does not desire to bring division but is realistic in setting the stage for the outcome of His ministry and for the people who choose to follow Him. For those who follow Jesus, there are bound to be divisions between their old lives and new lives. These differences are particularly tense when they happen within the family – father against son, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law, and vice versa (Luke 12:51-53).
Disagreements can occur in families when one member is too diverse in their passion for the Lord – given the varying priorities, others in the family would be disappointed. When there is no mutual understanding, this can lead to conflicts within the family.
True, it is not easy to follow Jesus, but the problem lies not in the divisions, but in how we respond to these divisions in our lives. The radical Christian message is a sword (Ephesians 6:17, Hebrews 4:12), come to illuminate and split us from our old lives. Jesus lets us know that following Him is not easy; the Gospel will tear families apart because of the changes one makes after hearing the Word of God and the others are not willing to change their way of life.
Through baptism, we enter into communion with God and become His children. The grace fills us with peace and joy. Yet, we cannot ignore the fact that there can be no resurrection without the cross. The baptism which Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel is His immersion in the suffering and death on the cross. When we are lowered into the waters of baptism, we thus follow Jesus into death to emerge in a new life in Christ.
Can we drink the cup that Jesus drinks, and be baptized with the baptism with which He was baptized (Mark 10:38-39)?
The trials we face as disciples of Christ are baptisms by fire, and what a strain we all are under until our mission is completed! What a comfort it is to know that Jesus understands our anguish intimately, having experienced it Himself in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:44). Jesus bore our sins and died for us on the cross – may His immense love for us empower us to accept suffering willingly, if that may be God’s will. Through this baptism, may our sins be consumed in the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit, leaving behind a heart zealous to do God’s will, responding as Jesus did, “how I wish [the world] were blazing already”!
What is Jesus asking of you?
Faith & Geraldine