Jesus said to the crowds, "I came to bring fire to the
earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to
be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think
that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather
division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two
and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against
father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law
against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."
In a few sentences Jesus gives his disciples an outline of
the work he has come to do, how he will suffer in carrying it out, and the
division it will cause among men and women. Some will accept his message,
others will oppose it.
“I came to cast fire upon the earth…,” said Jesus. Fire is a
symbol of purification in the Old Testament. His gospel will purify the gold
and separate it from the dross. John the Baptist said that Jesus baptizes with
the Holy Spirit and fire, that is, those who accept Christ will be filled with
the Holy Spirit and be
Jesus then wished that “the fire were already kindled!”.
What he meant is it will not be until after his death and resurrection that the
Holy ‘spirit, with the accompanying fire of purification and love, will come
upon his followers.
He then referred to his own baptism: “I have a baptism….” He
calls his sufferings, which ended on the cross, a baptism – a plunge into the
depths of torture. He foresees all his sufferings, and this is a cause of
anguish, an anguish which came to its climax in the agony in the garden. At the
same time he is wishing to see its results, the descent of the Holy Spirit with
the fire of divine love, accomplished.
He raised the question: “Do you think that I have come to
bring peace to the earth?” his coming was to establish peace and sonship
between mankind and God, a peace which will have its perfection only in heaven.
Because he will have opponents as well as followers, as Simeon had foretold at
the Presentation in the Temple (Luke 2:34 ), his very gospel of peace will be a
cause of division and opposition. The gospel which should bring peace to all
mankind will always be rejected by some. Not only will they be without his
peace themselves, but they will disturb those who have accepted the Christian
Jesus told his disciples that he would bring division. This
is a statement of fact, not of intention. He foresees the future and knows
that, because of sinful men, his gospel of peace will become a source of strife
He went on then to describe the dissension and strife which
his message will cause, even in the one household. This was especially
fulfilled in the early church, first among the Jews and later among the
Gentiles. Down through the centuries there have been many sad examples of
nation warring against nation because of Christianity, and citizens of the same
race and nation at loggerheads because some rejected Christ, or because of
differing interpretations as to what his message is.
Christ foresaw his sufferings in their minutest details, and
like any human being this foresight and anticipation caused him anguish of spirit.
He also foresaw the result of his sufferings – the elevation of mankind to be
sons and daughters of God, and heirs presumptive of heaven. This far outweighed
the load of sufferings because he loved us with an infinite love.
He came to light a fire on this earth. He lit that fire and
it is still burning brightly in the hearts of many. Unfortunately for them,
there are far too many in whom it has turned to ashes. That he foresaw also,
and it added to his anguish of spirit. The thought that his sufferings and his
humiliations would be in vain for so many, added greatly to his grief.
We who appreciate what he has done for us, and who are
striving hard against our natural weaknesses to profit by his salvific work,
can do something to console him for the desertion of so many that he still
loves dearly. God wants not human being lost eternally. He detests sin but he
still loves the sinner. He is always ready to grant a full pardon for each and
every sin we commit, if only the sinner has the humility to say “mea culpa”.