Our readings today present some fascinating and puzzling contrasts… The letter to the Ephesians is clear: “may charity be the root and foundation of your life…”
But then in Luke’s gospel, Jesus speaks of Fire on the earth…. [Lk 12:49‑53]
I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!
… Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division; for henceforth in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against her mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”
This is not some odd passage in Luke. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus says,
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; Similar sayings can be found elsewhere, sayings about the fire that cleanses all our works, the fire that Jesus came to cast on earth.”
It is challenging to reconcile such apparently conflicting teachings, but there is only one Christ and I think we can conclude that the fire he speaks of is the fire of love. But love can tear people apart as well as bring them together. It all hangs on how we love as well as whom and what we love. But Jesus was not naïve. John John’s gospel, he also warns us that the world, human society and its institutions, when not grounded in authentic love will oppose and persecute his disciples just as it did him.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this in light of last night’s final presidential debate. The campaign of Donald Trump has, let me suggest, done the country this service – it has exposed the rifts that still divide our nation, tensions that we would like to think had been patched over long ago – rich versus poor, whites versus people of color, even men versus women. Clearly, racism, sexism, and xenophobia are as present to us now as ever before, and, to be honest, as they were in Jesus’ time as well.
Perhaps people don’t change all that much.. Or perhaps we are simply in constant need of reflection, self-examination, and social reform because of the recurrent character of darkness in the human heart and in the world. A perfect society remains beyond our grasp and always will this side of heaven. In the meantime, if Christ dwells in our hearts through faith; so that being rooted and grounded in love, we may comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ’s love which surpasses all knowledge, we can be filled with all the fullness of God. And as Catherine of Siena wrote to Stephen Maconi, now go set the world on fire. [Letter 368]