Jesus said, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”
One of the many things that I admire about Jesus is that he rarely minces words. He was clear about his mission and ministry. Today’s Gospel reading brings a harsh tone to bear. The words that follow bring a prediction about further division within households.
Well, Jesus, sometimes your messages are not easy to bear! What could this possibly mean? And where are the messages about loving your neighbor, turning the other cheek, forgiving others seven times seventy times? This image of an angry and fiery Jesus is not consistent with the way that I often think of Jesus. If, like me, you find this portrayal surprising, then perhaps it is a call for us to examine Jesus’ life more closely.
Jesus appears to be at a breaking point. I wonder if this feeling stems from having been the leader of a group of people who had been acting in faith, following God’s mission with all of their life’s energy only to find that doing these things made them unwelcomed by many of their own community members, religious leaders and Roman officials. This passage is close to the time when he will enter Jerusalem, be arrested, tried and killed. His life and ministry is nearing a literal breaking point or baptism by fire. And yet, we know that his death will lead to the ultimate transformation by God into new life through his resurrection.
As followers of Jesus, we share in his commitment to lead a Gospel based life. Could this be an invitation to reflect on our own mission and ways that our life’s actions align with these Gospel values? Or perhaps you might identify with him facing a breaking point. While, in this country, we are not facing crucifixion, many of us face struggles in our lives that can overwhelm us. This story can serve as a reminder that God became human and knows our human condition. Through his suffering and death, he brought us the hope of resurrection, a cornerstone of our faith.