Our God is a consuming fire, Scripture tells us (see Heb. 12:29; Deut. 4:24).
And in this week’s Gospel, Jesus uses the image of fire to describe the demands of discipleship.
The fire he has come to cast on the earth is the fire that he wants to blaze in each of our hearts. He made us from the dust of the earth (see Gen. 2:7), and filled us with the fire of the Holy Spirit in baptism (see Luke 3:16).
We were baptized into his death (see Rom. 6:3). This is the baptism our Lord speaks of in the Gospel this week. The baptism with which he must be baptized is his passion and death, by which he accomplished our redemption and sent forth the fire of the Spirit on the earth (see Acts 2:3).
The fire has been set, but it is not yet blazing. We are called to enter deeper into the consuming love of God. We must examine our consciences and our actions, submitting ourselves to the revealing fire of God’s word (see 1 Cor. 3:13).
In our struggle against sin, we have not yet resisted to the point of shedding our own blood, Paul tells us in this week’s Epistle. We have not undergone the suffering that Jeremiah suffers in the First Reading this week.
But this is what true discipleship requires. To be a disciple is to be inflamed with the love of God. It is to have an unquenchable desire for holiness and zeal for the salvation of our brothers and sisters.
Being his disciple does not bring peace in the false way that the world proclaims peace (see Jer. 8:11). It means division and hardship. It may bring us to conflict with our own flesh and blood.
But Christ is our peace (see Eph. 2:14). By his cross, he has lifted us up from the mire of sin and death — as he will rescue the prophet Jeremiah (see Jer. 38:10).
And as we sing in the Psalm this week, we trust in our deliverer.
Scott Hahn is founder of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, stpaulcenter.com.
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