Sunday Readings: Jeremiah 38.4-6,8-10; Hebrews 12.1-4; Luke 12.49-53
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 that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” (Luke 12.49-51)
In the first two sentences in Sunday’s gospel Jesus speaks with urgency first about fire, then about baptism. When Luke writes in the mid 80s of the first century, Jesus has completed his baptism—his suffering, death, resurrection, and return to God, but he has not come again in glory.
Meanwhile Christian faith has spread not only among Jews but among Gentiles and created conflicts. Baptism is one such conflict. Among Gentiles baptism takes the place of circumcision, the sign for men of Jewish faith. But some of the Pharisees who have become Christians object. They think Gentiles should be circumcised and instructed in keeping the law of Moses.
The first Church council convenes in Jerusalem in AD 49 to discuss and pray about whether Gentiles entering the Christian movement need to be circumcised. Both Peter and Paul agree circumcision is not necessary.
The fire Jesus wishes were already kindled points to this challenge of Jews and Gentiles in Christ working together to reconcile divisions, even in families and households. Fire is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, the giver of our lives, who coexists with us and accompanies us in success and failure. Jesus anticipates fires will persist. To widen our perspectives, we have to interact.
Every election season lights fires and puts Catholic social teaching to work. Who includes the least among us in their vision of economic life? Who values the family and puts people to work? Who listens and learns as well as speaks and stands up for their constituents? Who can negotiate for the common good?
What divisions do you experience in the Church today? What value do you experience in talking about difficult, even divisive, questions?