Thursday (October 26): "I came to cast fire upon the earth"

Meditation: Do you want to be on fire for God? Jesus shocked his disciples when he declared that he would cast fire and cause division rather than peace upon the earth. What kind of fire did Jesus have in mind here?

The fire of God's purifying love and cleansing word
The image of fire in biblical times was often associated with God and with his action in the world and in the lives of his people. God sometimes manifested his presence by use of fire, such as God's revelation to Moses through the burning bush in the wilderness which was not consumed by the flames (Exodus 3:2). God assured the Hebrew people of his continual presence, guidance, and protection for them through the wilderness for forty years with the pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day (Exodus 13:21-22). The prophet Elijah called down fire from heaven to reveal God's presence and power and to purify the people of false idols (1 Kings 18:36-39). The image of fire was also used as a sign of God's glory (Ezekiel 1:4, 13) and holiness (Deuteronomy 4:24), his protective presence (2 Kings 6:17), and his righteous judgment (Zechariah 13:9) and holy wrath against sin (Isaiah 66:15-16).

Fire is also a sign and symbol of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist said that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Matthew 3:11-12 and Luke 3:16-17). When the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the disciples at Pentecost "tongues of fire" appeared above their heads (Acts 2:3). We can see from both the Old and New Testament Scriptures that God's fire purifies and cleanses to make us clean (sins washed away) and holy (fit to offer him acceptable praise and worship), and it inspires a reverent fear (awe in God's presence) and respect (obeying and giving God his due) for God and for his holy word. 

Loyalty unites - division separates
Why did Jesus link fire from heaven with costly division on the earth? Did he expect his followers to take his statement of "father against son and son against father" and "mother against daughter and daughter against mother" literally? Or was he intentionally using a figure of speech to emphasize the choice and cost of following him above all else? Jesus used a typical Hebrew hyperbole (a figure of speech which uses strong language and exaggeration for emphasis) to drive home an important lesson. We often do the same when we want to emphasize something very strongly. Jesus' hyperbole, however, did contain a real warning that the Gospel message does have serious consequences for our lives.

When Jesus spoke about division within families he likely had in mind the prophecy of Micah: a man's enemies are the men of his own household (Micah 7:6). The essence of Christianity is loyalty to Jesus Christ - the Son of God and Savior of the world - a loyalty that takes precedence over every other relationship. The love of God compels us to choose who will be first in our lives. To place any relationship (or anything else) above God is a form of idolatry.

Who do you love first and foremost?
Jesus challenges his disciples to examine who they love first and foremost. A true disciple loves God above all else and is willing to forsake all for Jesus Christ. Jesus insists that his disciples give him the loyalty which is only due to God, a loyalty which is higher than spouse or kin. It is possible that family and friends can become our enemies if the thought of them keeps us from doing what we know God wants us to do. Does the love of Jesus Christ compel you to put God first in all you do (2 Corinthians 5:14)?

The Gospel message is good news for those who seek pardon, peace, and the abundant life which God offers us through his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus offers true freedom to those who believe in him - freedom from slavery to sin, Satan, and the oppressive forces of hatred and evil that can destroy body, mind, and spirit. Do you listen to the voice of your Savior and trust in his word? Commit your ways to him, obey his word, and you will find true peace, joy, and happiness in the Lord your God.

"Lord Jesus, may the fire of your love consume me and transform my life that I may truly desire nothing more than life with you. Fill me with the power of your Holy Spirit that I may always seek to please you and do your will."

This reflection is courtesy of Don Schwager, whose website is located at: http://www.rc.net/wcc/readings/