Thursday, August 23, 2007


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 the earth? No, I tell you but rather division." (Luke 12:49-52)

Jesus seems to present a pretty grim picture of what He was up to: to set the world on fire, to go through the anguish of His Baptism and finally to bring division to households. Isn't this the picture of a terrible God? Yet Jesus has been teaching us that God is a loving Father and that He is the Prince of Peace. How are we to understand this passage?

First, fire has many purposes. There is a destructive fire that wipes out and destroys. There is also the beneficial fire that cooks food for the hungry, warms those who are cold, and purifies what is polluted.

Jesus speaks of fire in a symbolic sense. In the Scriptures, fire is a symbol of Divine Presence. Often the Divine Presence is that of judgment and chastisement.

But Jesus did not come first to judge and chastise the world. "God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.

Another symbolic meaning of fire is the cleansing, purification and transformation to a more perfect state, like what happened when the Holy Spirit came in tongues of fire upon those in the upper room on Pentecost and they were transformed. This is what our Savior came to do: to cleanse, to purify from all evil, to transform.

To a world deprived of human warmth, of hope for a truly universal communion, and of disinterested love, Christ brings the fire of His Love. Only that fire can give warmth to our hearts, cause ill-feelings to melt, bring about the disappearance of "cold wars". The fire with which we must be aflame is the very fire which is burning in the Sacred Heart of Christ; it is a fire which is not of this world, a fire which comes from God.

But to bring about a revolution of mentalities and structures, we must go through the Baptism of Fire that Jesus meant; dispossession and failure, giving our lives for the sake of the ideal we have chosen. The life and death of Jesus have produced a decisive division in the world.

To be His Disciples, we must have the courage to affirm the truth He believes and the heroism to face the most violent opposition. The coming of Jesus would inevitably mean division. The essence of Christianity is that loyalty to Christ has to take precedence over the dearest loyalties of this earth. One must be prepared to count all things but loss for the excellence of Jesus Christ.

Father Ben Sim, SJ
Cebu City, Philippines