BY: Fr. Jude Chijioke



Jeremiah 38, 4-6.8-10; Hebrews 12: 1-4; Luke 12, 49-53

“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. (Lk 12).

The passage that the liturgy has cut out today from the gospel of Luke and offers us for meditation has an image of a flickering flame. This seems to witness a contrast, because Jesus speaks of a “baptism”, a theme that refers to water (a term of Greek origin meaning precisely “immersion”). However, we remember those words of the Baptist regarding Jesus which unite baptism with fire: “I baptize you with water; but someone is coming soon who is greater than I am… He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Lk 3:16). Here, then, a question arises: what is this fire that Jesus wished already blazing? What is this immersion in fire that generates anguish in Christ?
If we leaf through the Bible, we will realize that fire is a symbol of divine judgment or, more simply, a sign of God’s presence within history. The baptism by fire to which Jesus referred was his coming crucifixion. Jesus already sees his future destiny, his “long march” to Jerusalem, his passion and death looming before him. He dreaded the physical pain and complete darkness that accompany his death before his resurrection.

Hence, in his humanity, Jesus experiences a strong interior tension: on the one hand, he must desire that the Father’s will of salvation be accomplished; but on the other hand, feels a vibrating fear, a fear that in the garden of olives will become anguish (“in the grip of anguish – Luke will write in 22: 44 – his sweat became like drops of blood that fell to the ground”). This “baptism” of his passion, Gianfranco Ravasi defined as “a dark and dramatic passage within the silence of God.”

In the scriptures Christ’s death in not detached from his resurrection. It is then easy to understand that flames of fire also have another symbolic meaning, this time very luminous, a sign of God-with-us. Evangelist Luke helps us to understand this further meaning when he describes the Holy Spirit fused on the disciples at Pentecost with the image of “tongues/flames of fire” (Acts 2: 3). Through the paschal mystery the Spirit penetrates like tongues of fire in our cold hearts and consciences, warming and transforming them. Jesus came to bring us a “baptism by fire” which does not destroy but purifies and transfigures us by immersing us in God.

It is therefore dangerous to let time pass in this age dominated by superficiality without understanding, penetrating, living intensely the reality of this immersion. This reality will certainly come along with that disturbing theme of “division” which faith creates within life, but we must not be discouraged. Certainly, there is no middle ground, Jesus demands loyalty and commitment, sometimes to the point of severing other relationships. “No one who puts his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the Kingdom of God.” (Lk 9:62)

Fr. Jude Chijioke

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