Today’s Gospel: Luke 12:49-53
I must admit that the opening line of today’s gospel caused me a “flashback” of a recent experience that is still very fresh in my heart. Jesus’ words to His disciples, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” took me to the week I recently spent in Santa Rosa, California amidst the deadly fires raging in that region. The reason for my visit was a happy one. Over a year ago, my son and his fiancee chose a lovely little church in the heart of wine country for their wedding. Little did we know that the church would be one of the few edifices in that region that would remain untouched by mandatory evacuation orders. As we rebooked first the rehearsal dinner, then our guests’ hotels and then the reception (within 36 hours of the ceremony), I drove through the heart of Santa Rosa on Highway 101. With guests flying in from around the globe, we were scrambling to ensure the safety of our friends and family while still helping the bride and groom to celebrate the sacrament they had so long anticipated.
I’m sorry if today’s reflection runs a bit longer than usual, but Jesus’ words in this gospel led me into my first opportunity to revisit that week in writing. To be honest, those words, “I have come to set the world on fire,” hit a bit too close for comfort right now. That week, I saw firsthand the carcasses of burned out buildings. I shared my accommodations with evacuees who had fled the flames with nothing but the clothes on their back. I chatted with and prayed for brave firefighters who had come from afar to battle the blazes. This is a gospel which – on its surface – points us to destruction, devastation, and division. Were I to read only this small portion of Luke’s gospel in isolation, I might be tempted to run the opposite direction from Christ’s teachings.
But in truth, we are given this gospel passage in the context of the fullness of not only what Jesus said and did, but also with the entirety of the teachings of the Church. Does Jesus want me to be divided inseparably against my family or friends who are not Christians? I think not. Jesus did come to us and set us “afire” – consumed with a love that is destined to forever change the landscape around us. I understand that those very teachings Jesus gave us years ago are the ones which often separate us from those we love most, those who may not believe as we do.
But I also believe our challenge, as Catholic Christians, is to never give up or give in to the easy path, the one more traveled. Instead, just as Jesus called his disciples to a radical, fiery love that would at times divide them from “what everyone else is doing”, you and I are called to be set aside, divided from what is comfortable and easy.
On the sleepless night before my son’s wedding, I pondered to myself what I would do if I were suddenly evacuated. What, or more importantly who, would I grab if the flames approached? The answers came easily: my “stuff” could be burned away, but my loved ones would be rescued.
In the end, I have to believe that when He sets us afire, Jesus calls us to choose the path to truth. For myself, in the end I’m going to try to grab as many of my loved ones as I can along the way. And here lies the challenge between “division” within a household, and love. Do we divide ourselves apart and leave those we love to be consumed by wrong, by what the world teaches is true?
Or do we embolden ourselves to brave the fire and to rescue those who are the most lost, the most “unsaved”, the most at risk?
Today, I’m praying for the grace and courage to answer Christ’s call. Especially when the stakes are highest.
How are the relationships in your life divided by issues of faith? How can you brave the challenges you will meet to share with others the truth as Christ taught it?
Lord Jesus, You challenge me to live a radical love amid a world that sometimes feels very lost. Help me to choose You always, but also to love those who do not yet know You, with patience and courage.
Copyright 2017 Lisa M. Hendey
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