The Nazareth Page - A gospel meditation for your home
August 18, 2019 – 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Luke 12:49-53
The ancients believed that the world was composed of four basic elements: earth, water, wind and fire. We might say today that this theory was pre-scientific, but still, there is a wisdom contained in their view. These elements made up most of what they experienced. They lived on the earth. Water came to provide them with food and drink. The wind brought the air they breathed. But what about fire? Well, certainly it warmed them during the cold and some groups used fire for preparing food. But there was also the fire of destruction. Thus, fire can be the source of both blessing and destruction.
In a common prayer to God’s Holy Spirit, we ask that the fire of God’s love enkindle our hearts. I am also reminded of what the Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin wrote almost a century ago: Someday, after mastering the winds, 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, we will have discovered fire.” In that sense fire becomes a powerful symbol for God’s love and our own. In the words of today’s gospel Jesus says, “I have come to set the earth on fire.” Not a fire of destruction, but rather one of creative love. Recall the words of the disciples at Emmaus when visited by the risen Christ: Were not our hearts burning within us?
Sometimes we imagine Jesus as a rather quiet person. He peacefully walked the paths and roads of Israel, occasionally stopping with a supportive word for someone seeking greater truth. Or quietly healing the physical and mental difficulties of those who sought him out. He was, in a sense, easy-going, available but not pushy, certainly not calling for God to destroy those who failed to follow God’s laws as then understood. He spoke more of God’s mercy than judgment.
So how might we understand “the fire” in today’s gospel? Especially when it is joined to a description of family disharmony and seeming conflict? First, there is the observable fact of family separation brought about, in part, by some family members afire with faith in Christ and some who are not. This is simply a statement of reality. It happened in the early church and it happens today.
After all, being a genuine Christian is not easy. The “fire” Jesus spread on the earth was fed by the flames of a fully generous love. A love that can bring peace, but it can also pull one apart by its demands. If you pray to be fired by God’s love, be careful. It can get quite hot at times.
©David M. Thomas, PhD
REFLECTION QUESTIONS: Download this simple Observe-Judge-Act method for discussion with your family or your CFM group.