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Water and fire discord and peace

Today’s gospel combines a series of rather enigmatic sayings of the Lord. Let’s start with the images of fire and baptism. After the flood in the time of Noah, God swears: “Never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 

From this promise a conviction is born and spread in Israel that, to cleanse the world of iniquity, God would no longer use water, but fire. 

The Baptist announces: “He will baptise you in the Holy Spirit and fire. The chaff he will burn in everlasting fire.” 

It is natural to think of the final judgment and eternal punishment that awaits the wicked. Not so fast! 

The fire announced by the prophets and lit by Jesus saves, cleanses, heals: it is the fire of his word; it is his message of salvation; it is his Spirit, who, on the day of Pentecost, descended like tongues of fire on the disciples and has begun to spread the world like a beneficial and renewing blaze.

Now we can make sense of the exclamation of Jesus: “How I wish it were already kindled!”

It is the expression of his burning desire to see the weeds that is in the world, soon destroyed. Malachi announced: by the irresistible flame of his love.

The second image, baptism, is linked to the previous one. Jesus says that to unleash this fire he must first be baptised. To baptise means to submerge and Jesus refers to his immersion in the waters of death. 

This water has been prepared by his enemies in order to extinguish forever the fire of his word, love and Spirit. It instead gets the opposite effect: it communicates to this fire an uncontrollable force. 

The prospect that Jesus faces is dramatic: he will be overwhelmed by the waves of humiliation, suffering and death, but he knows that, coming out of these dark waters, on Easter Sunday the new world will begin.

Now we try to make sense of what Jesus says, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” An amazingly baffling statement, because the Messiah would be the prince of peace.

Will the proclamation of the gospel bring to the world, among peoples and families, harmony or discord?

 Luke verifies that these breaks occurred in his communities. In the light of the Master’s words he understands that these were inevitable and the context in which these words are placed helps us to understand why.

The one who feels threatened by this fire of love does not remain passive. He opposes it outright. He reacts violently, because he wants to perpetuate the world of sin. 

It is at this point that the first misunderstanding burst, then division and conflict, and finally persecution and violence.

Unity must be sought from the word of God, from the truth. Peace founded on lies and injustice, cannot be favoured. It must, at times, provoke with love and, without offending anyone, healthy divisions.

 

Father Fernando Armellini SCJ        
 Claretian Publications
   https://sundaycommentaries.wordpress.com