By Fr. Tim McFarland, C.PP.S.
The Gospel for this Sunday has always seemed out of context to me. Most of the sayings of Jesus are about coming together and loving others. Today, however, we hear Jesus say he has come to light the earth on fire and there will be division among people.
The context of the Gospel may help us better understand its meaning for us today. Many well-off Christians are deeply attached to the status quo that favors them and consider it the main task of Christianity to help maintain law and order. They find it strange and wrong if Jesus seems to invite, not economic and social and conservatism, but a deep and radical transformation of society. “I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were blazing already… Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”
The second part of the Gospel reflects the experience of the early Church. When a person became a Christian, it could affect the harmony and cohesion of his or her whole family. It may well be that we are back to that situation today. The conscious choice of discipleship can indeed be disconcerting if not disruptive for our families and friends.
That his mission should have divisive results should not surprise us. Recall the prediction of Simeon at the Presentation: “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted. …” (Luke 2:34).
This “fire” Jesus speaks about is not destructive, but rather the fire of Pentecost, which is the life of the Holy Spirit that dwells in all of us if we let it, a force which burns within us. It is the fire of God’s love, empowering us to follow Jesus no matter how difficult the journey may be.
Increasingly in our times, especially in various forms of media, some cause division in what they believe Catholicism or Christianity should be about. We don’t have to look far to see this. Perhaps some see this as a prophetic stance. However, it must be recalled that prophecy in the Scriptures is about seeing as God sees and speaking God’s word, not about their own vision and words. Yes, there are times when our faith sets us apart from others, but we must always remember that it is God’s vision and words we are called to proclaim.
Fr. Tim McFarland, C.PP.S., is the director of ministry and mission and serves on the faculty at Calumet College of St. Joseph in Whiting, Ind.