Jesus was on a journey to Jerusalem, to the place where his destiny was fulfilled, and once again he wanted to remind both his disciples of that time and us, who are his disciples and listen to him today, of the goal of this journey: his death and his Resurrection. So it was that Jesus revealed the way that the disciple’s life should take, filled it with content and described this existence as a “following of him” and a following of him in his love to the very end. Luke the Evangelist’s passage – which we find awkward, with harsh traits, perhaps somewhat out of place and out of time and which we would be tempted to overlook or to soften – also indicates certain steps of this following.
“I came to cast fire upon the earth”. What fire, we might ask ourselves? There is a fire that Jesus contemptuously refuses. The fire that Jesus came to bring was not a consuming fire; He distances himself from those who wish to kindle the fire of harshness and judgement, which, indignant at the refusal of hospitality in a village of the Samaritans, James and John had invoked a few chapters earlier (cf. Lk 9:54). His was an inner fire, the same fire that burned in the hearts of the prophets and which Jeremiah confesses he has within him: “There is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary of holding it in” (cf. Jer 20:7-9): this is the fire, the passion, for the words of God. This is the fire that Jesus wanted to light in order to transform our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh: passion for God is passion for others, for the face of God and for the faces of others, the only fire, the only passion; the passion for God, an ardent fire, that zeal for his house which one day led Jesus to drive the merchants out of the temple. This is a fire that Jesus wants: the fire that consumes the false religious images of a faith reduced to a market. This fire is also the Spirit poured out from the Cross after his death, a fire that dwells within each one of us and that seeks to make room and light for itself in order to illuminate and liberate our lives. But this very fire which consumes becomes for many a cause of division and misunderstanding.
“Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No I tell you, but rather division”. Would Jesus have come on earth to do this? He, who was meek and humble of heart, who at the beginning of his ministry had presented himself as the one who had been sent to bring the glad tidings to the poor? Jesus came as a man of peace but the very fact that he lived unconditional love to the very end had the opposite effect, making him for many a sign of contradiction, a stumbling block. With his words and his actions Jesus becomes a watershed which throws into crisis even family ties, the most natural ties of every human life. The opposition that affected Jesus’ existence was also to affect his disciples’ lives: his family considers him to be out of his mind and go out to seize him because they find it hard to understand (cf. Mk 3:21), but Jesus does not descend to compromises and forcefully opposes them, saying “[His] mother and [his] brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (cf. Lk 8:20-21).
Following Christ is demanding. We are asked to consider, to verify and to choose, like a good builder of towers or a strategy in war, whether or not to set out on the journey with him; on the journey it is a matter of fighting every day to die to ourselves and to live in God and for God alone, giving up what is not essential, what is an impediment to us and deflects us from our goal, the figure of our entire existence. It is a daily battle, but at the end of this war lies the acquisition of that peace and that joy which nothing and no one will be able to take from us, and learning to give ourselves true love. The objective, the arrival point, is that love which alone can provide the strength at last to achieve death to ourselves in order to live in God; the end is authentic love, which, at the same time and indissolubly, is love of God and love of our neighbour.
St. Peter’s Square
Aug. 20, 2019
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