Jesus said to his disciples: I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. Luke 12:49-53
Jesus’ message today runs deep for all of his believers. In Scripture, fire is frequently associated with God. He often appears in the Bible in the form of fire as an image of his love. Here, Jesus reminds us of his desire to spread the heat of his love, but despite his longing to fill us, the world is not yet blazing. We still lay on soppy beds of straw, drenched by our sins and our attachments, unable to be set aflame. We must remember, though, that it is not God who impedes his flame from fanning alive within us. Oftentimes we make it hard on ourselves.
I’ve been reflecting on this for the past few days because I was humbly reminded of the weakness of my prayer life recently. I tried to fast, for the first time since lent, and it did not go very well. My attempt at fasting wasn’t without motivation or reasons. I went into it hoping to lift up my small sacrifices in prayer for a family who is in desperate need of prayer. Yet as the day wore on—through both forgetfulness and also appetite for those things I was giving up—I found myself over and over having to recommit myself to my small sacrifices. My attempt at fasting ultimately had me feeling like such a failure and so weak. How is it that saying no to such small things was so hard for me when the desire to offer them was so strong?
Today’s gospel is all about fire, unrest, and division—three things we all try to avoid at all times. We desire to stay cool, sitting lukewarm and comfortable in our attachments that bring us a low-grade contentment at all times. We cry when it is “too hot” outside, and lament when “we don’t have anything to eat.” We desire to have peaceful and uncomplicated days, and we fill our cups to the brim with both small and large satisfactions to make things just a little bit easier and more pleasant for ourselves. We avoid talking about the hard truths of our faith, steering clear of confrontation. We keep quiet and run from tough conversations with friends and family, afraid of fights and fallouts. What we forget, though, is that nothing great is ever achieved without sacrifice. If my daily goal is to satisfy my own soul with both small and large indulgences, how can I ever offer myself—my nothingness—as something that God can truly transform and use? The Baptism that the Lord speaks about–the Baptism that incorporates each one of us into God’s Kingdom–wasn’t brought about easily. Jesus suffered much on our behalf, but he did so that we might obtain a glory that is beyond our own reach.
God wants to completely consume us with the fire of his love, but for us to be consumed by him we have to allow him to purify us of our attachments to things that are not of him. We cannot be filled completely with him, if we allow other things to take his place. In order for his love to burn within us, we must allow that fiery love to refine us. It requires us to pay attention to those things that impede our enflaming, and trust in him as we begin to weed out these attachments with his help. It necessitates that we evaluate ourselves frequently. Are we able to properly order our attachments or are we so weak that even small sacrifices require a tempering of the heart? Are we really truly ready to be refined by the flames of God’s love, so as to be transformed into a living fire?
If you don’t feel yourself alive with the fire of God’s love, ask yourself where your attachments lie. If you want to burn deeper still and allow yourself to be completely consumed by him, continue to filter those attachments and order them under the one true good. When we allow ourselves to be emptied of attachments that weigh us down, we allow the spark within us to fan into flame; we become light enough to be immersed in the fire of God’s love—a fire that is all consuming and burns deep. Then, when that fire is ablaze in our hearts, we will be filled with the strength to overcome both small and large sacrifices, sufferings and trials, and offer them over for the good of the Kingdom.