20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
A quick reading of this Sunday’s Gospel can lead to quite a bit of confusion. Jesus says to his disciples; “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were blazing already”. Lest there can be any doubt that this Gospel passage is easy to understand, Jesus also asks; “Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division”. Sometimes, one must look deeper into the Scriptural text to find its meaning. The first phrase cannot be interpreted literally, because Jesus did not bring literal fire to the earth. The saints who commented on this text interpret the “fire” as the fire of charity or of love. It is quite reasonable for Jesus to wish that the fire of charity was blazing in our hearts already.
The two great commandments are to love God above all else and to love one’s neighbours as oneself. The reason then for Jesus’ coming is to bring the fire of love to earth in the hearts of people. Why does Jesus wish to do this? Because He loves us and this is why in the next sentence in the Gospel, Jesus says; “there is a baptism I must still receive, and how great is my distress till it is over!” This baptism of Jesus refers to His death on the Cross, for Jesus has already been baptised in the river Jordan by St John the Baptist. Jesus connects His coming to bring the fire of love on the earth to His Cross. Elsewhere in the Gospels Jesus says; “greater love than this no man has, than to lay down his life for his friends”. This great love that Jesus has for us, is the reason why He laid down His life on the Cross for us, and this is the love that He wishes to create in our hearts, a love so great that we would be capable of loving even unto the loss of our own lives.
How does this love connect to the second part of this Sunday’s Gospel? Where Jesus says; “Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division”. It seems strange that on the one hand Jesus should tell us that He is coming to make our hearts blaze with love and then afterwards tell us that his coming is not to bring peace on earth. One explanation might be that peace on earth is not Jesus’ goal, but rather peace in heaven. This is not overtly satisfactory because elsewhere Jesus instructs his disciples to wish that peace should descend on their listeners. We cannot understand this passage in the sense that Jesus wishes to come to cause division. Rather, it is understood by the Saints that division is the unfortunate side-effect of Jesus’ coming. It is the division between good and evil. This division referred to by Jesus is the effect of love blazing.
Love opposes evil and seeks good above all else even to the giving up of life and limb. Unfortunately, the opposite is true, for evil seeks to destroy love and all that is good. This is what happened to all of the Christian martyrs over the last two-thousand years. So what does this mean for us? We should seek to increase our love for God and for one another. Let this love blaze in our hearts and when we begin to doubt, we should remind ourselves that Jesus loved us first and that Jesus’ love for us led Him to the Cross for us.
“I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, 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 daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”