August 18, 2019
XX Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
In the past few Sundays, Jesus spoke to us about wealth, riches, and said that the heart of man is where his treasure lies.
Today, He appears to change the subject and speaks about Himself, His mission. He speaks of having come to bring fire on the earth (Lk 12:49) and of being impatient to fulfill His purpose. It’s as if to say that’s where His heart is. His treasure is that mission which the Father has entrusted to Him.
But what does this expression mean, and why does Jesus use this image?
In the Old Testament, the image of fire is used to speak of God’s presence among men. One cannot see God in it, and therefore, He is present and visible through some symbols, such as a fire.
We think of Moses, of his experience at the burning bush. Moses sees a fire that burns without consuming it, and he draws near, and, from that bush, he hears the voice of God that speaks to him (Ex 3:2).
We also think about the departure of Israel from the desert. God Himself guided the people on the way. It was He who walked at its head. And the people could see Him as a column of fire during the night and as a cloud during the day (Ex 13:21ff).
Other stunning images describe the work of God among us, like the fire that one cannot quench. For example, we think of the experience of the prophet Jeremiah: the prophet is tired, disappointed, he would like to forget God, but he cannot. He cannot because God within Him is like a fire, like something that cannot be resisted, like something that burns within (Jer 20:9).
If the image of fire is to indicate the presence of God, then we can conclude that today, Jesus says He came to bring God among men, to be His presence on earth. He did not come to do something other than this, to inaugurate the Kingdom of God, to cancel the distance that separated man from his Creator.
It is not an easy mission, and for this reason, Jesus refers to His Passion, which He calls a “baptism,” a moment in which He will be immersed in death: it will be the decisive moment when the fire will shine in all its splendor.
In truth, in the Old Testament, the image of fire recalls not only the presence of God but also purification, decision, and judgment. Well- known is the citation of the prophet Malachi (3:2): “But who may abide the day of his coming? And who shall stand when he appears? for he is like a refiner’s fire and as the fuller’s lye.”
Jesus then tells us that He is undoubtedly the presence of God in our midst, like a fire, but He is, however, a presence before whom a decision one must make a decision, express a judgment. The encounter with ‘fire’ does not, in reality, leave things as before. When the Lord enters one’s life, He changes everything. The meeting with the Lord cannot but change us.
We are accustomed to thinking that when the Lord is present, everything falls into place, He solves all problems. The reality is not so. We cannot accept the Lord if we do not consent to His work, which is the work of a fire that purifies, which burns all evil attachments to which our hearts cling to so much, all the false riches and treasures.
When the Lord comes, He purifies and divides, just like fire does. And the dearest and most intimate family ties are marked. The fire also works there to create something new. It is there where He brings all that is old to its fulfillment, to its true meaning. Even family, tribal, national ties; all ties, in short, must be evangelized, judged, purified, and saved by the presence of Jesus.
While He speaks of fire, Jesus also tells what the fire is that burns within Him. Even He, as in Jeremiah, has a fire that burns within Him, that in some way will consume Him until the end, from which work Jesus does not escape. It is the love of the Father, His will for the good of every man.
That is the fire that Jesus came to light.