19 August, 2007, XX Sunday of the Year

Jer 38:4-6,8-10; Heb 12:2-4; Lk 12:49-53

Fire of Love

Today’s Gospel is something very special to us Catholics, where Jesus speaks of the very purpose of his coming to the earth to bring fire and division. What is this fire that Jesus speaks of? Is it just a fire of destruction or a fire which is so necessary for life and supportive? Often it seems that the idea of fire associated in our minds is something that is negative, associated with death and destruction. Especially if the fire is from God and the Scriptures say more than once, His wrath goes forth like fire and His anger burns like fire. We also see how the cities like Sodom and Gomorah were burnt down and Abraham in all his generosity and friendship with God was not able to save it. Thinking of the end times Jesus says that the wicked will be burnt in the unquenchable fire. That makes many identify fire with the wrath of God. But we as Christians and children of God would say that we do not see God as one filled with wrath. He has a special love for us his children. He is our creator and Father and he loves us all. And Jesus taught us that God is love.

On the practical side we have seen fire as destructive. There have been houses burnt down by fire; villages and townships have been destroyed and forests are consumed with the fury of fire and so on. There has been loss of lives too through fire. We also see another element of fire in practical life. It is connected with purification. Gold is purified with fire; iron ore is smelted to remove the impurities to make the strongest steel needed for our daily use. We use a similar imagery when a person has to undergo sufferings and we say that the fire of sufferings purifies the person.

We need fire for our daily use to light the place, to warm ourselves, to cook food, to heat water and so on. The practical uses of fire are many. Symbolically the term fire is used for love that burns in the heart of the person as much as it tells us about the love of God. We have the heart of Jesus burning with love for humanity.

Jesus says, “I have come to bring fire on earth and how I wish it were kindled. How is it you cannot interpret the signs of times?”

What is this fire then?

–it is the fire that Moses saw in the bush and that led the people of Israel through the wilderness.

–it is the fire that touched the lips of prophet Isaiah to proclaim the Word of God to Israel.

–it is the fire that came down and consumed the altar of Baal when Elijah prayed.

–it is the fire of the Word of God which is like a hammer that breaks rocks into pieces.

–it is the fire that descended on the apostles and believers on the Pentecost day.

–it is the fire that burnt the hearts of the disciples on their way to Emmaus.

Our Lord wanted fire on earth to be seen as a moment of judgement. The question is one of making a choice, of choosing one thing from another, of dividing the good from the bad and the eternal from the temporal. The choice that Jesus places before us is one such and Luke in the early church would have witnessed the division in the families for choosing Christ and the persecutions that came heavily on the church. It was the same fire that inflamed the gift of faith in the apostles, which purified the lips of the prophet Isaiah and is burning within us to choose for Jesus and be finally consumed by him.

It was the time of Christmas and the time of Second World War. The soldiers in the camp in England felt miserable and went to a nearby orphanage to spend their Christmas Eve with those helpless. There was no decoration, no crib; in fact they had not enough food there. The soldiers felt bad. They emptied their ration, gave them small gifts like pens and chocolates. One soldier found a little child in a corner standing alone and not mixing with the others. He went and knelt before him as he resembled his little nephew. The child looked at him and said, “Uncle just hold me. I have no one to love me.” It is this new fire, the fire of love, the soldier chose to give to the child. He held him tight and gave him the best of Christmas. Jesus came to give us this fire and he wants to inflame our hearts with the same fire of love. He did it by placing us in the love of His Father. The fire that He gives us cannot be ignored.

Finally, Jesus wants us to recognise the signs of the times. Let’s look around us. How many people recognise God’s presence in the world of today? For them the person next door is to be ignored. They cannot see in that person the presence of the divine. That is where we fail to see the signs of the times. Jesus saw the signs in the people around him. Where there was a tear, he wiped it away; where there was sadness, he gave them joy; where there was pain, he soothed it. He showed in all this, the Father’s infinite love for each and everybody.

Therefore friends, let us allow this fire of love to burn within us and continue to shine everywhere. Amen

-Eugene


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