49“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!
Fire destroys. Fire cleanses. Fire purifies. Forests are ravaged, homes demolished, lives lost. But the soil is replenished, and new life springs forth.
Fire is also power and heat and light. It drives our cars, warms our homes, lightens our darkness.
And by fire dross is consumed and gold and silver made pure.
What does Jesus means when he says he has come to cast fire on the earth? Is there not enough suffering and purging already in life? There are 1.8 million homeless in Syria from tyranny, rebellion and war built on ancient hatreds. There are 600,000 homeless and 17.2 million “food insecure” households in this, the land of plenty. On the beaches of Normandy, in the fields of Flanders, beneath the earth of Gettysburg, in the ashes of Nagasaki, in the frozen ground of Siberia lie countless graves – and these only a few of the many from just the last few generations.
What fire does Jesus cast upon the earth? Is this the fire of revolution, peasants rising up against the wealthy? The powerless rising up against the might of Rome? The nationalists rising up against their foreign invader?
Such talk of fire makes us all nervous – at least those of us who profit in some way from the way things are. We linger with the meek and mild Jesus who everyone would like to have as a neighbor, a source of endless good deeds and kindness whose lawn is always trim and poses no danger to property values. But Jesus did suffer the punishment reserved for rebels.
“I came to cast fire on the earth. How I wish it were already ablaze.”
What fire would you bring, Jesus? What purging of the human heart? What cleansing of our public life? What transformation of our cities? What smelting of our churches?
Would we rise up to put it down? Gather the brigades to drown that transformative flame? Is that what happened in Jerusalem that fateful night when soldiers came to seize you? Silence the prophetic voice! Silence the call to do justice and mercy. Silence the claim that God had drawn near to the poor and outcast. Silence the voice that broke not the bruised reed. Silence the voice that shamed the righteous elders and freed the shamed woman. Silence the indecent voice that spoke to the outcast woman at the well – a woman not his kin! – and alone!
Would we silence this voice that would feed all with shared bread? Would we silence this voice that violates ancient religious tradition and law, healing on the Sabbath those who could well wait a day? Would we cast out the blind man who said this Jesus made him see?
What fire do you bring, Jesus?
We want to be warmed, not purified. We want to be comforted not driven to new life. We want you safely in the ground or at the right hand of the Father, not here pushing and challenging and cleansing and sending, claiming this world and our lives as your own.
What fire do you bring?