The Gospel for Thursday of the 29th Week of the Year speaks of a great cosmic battle taking place all around us. In it, Jesus speaks of His mission to engage our ancient foe and to gather God’s elect back from the enslaving clutches of Satan, who was a murderer and a liar from the beginning (cf John 8:44).
Jesus is approaching Jerusalem for the final time and describes the battle that is about to unfold. It is a battle He wins at the cross and with His resurrection, but it is one whose parameters extend across time to our own era.
Let’s consider Jesus’ description of the cosmic battle and of His mission as the great Shepherd of the sheep and the Lord of armies.
A Passion to Purify – Jesus begins by saying, I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!
Fire is both powerful and transformative. It gives warmth and makes food palatable, but it also consumes and destroys. Nothing goes away from fire unchanged!
The Lord has come to purify us by the fiery power of His love, His grace, and His Word. He has a passion to set things right.
Purification is seldom easy or painless, though, hence the image of fire. In this great cosmic battle, fire must be cast upon the earth not only to purify but to distinguish. There are things that will be made pure but only if other things are burned away and reduced to ashes.
This image of fire is important because many people today have reduced faith to seeking enrichment and blessings. Faith surely supplies these, but it also demands that we take up our cross and follow Christ without compromise. Many if not most enrichment and blessings come through the fiery purification of God’s grace, which burns away sin and purifies us of our adulterous relationship with this world. Fire incites, demands, and causes change—and change is never easy.
Therefore, Jesus announces the fire by which He will judge and purify this earth and all on it, rescuing us from the power of the evil one.
This is no campfire around which we sit singing songs. Jesus describes it as a blaze that must set the whole world on fire!
How do you get ready for fire? By letting the Lord set you on fire! John the Baptist promised of the Lord, He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire (Matt 3:11). Indeed, the Lord sent forth His Spirit on the early Church as tongues of fire (cf Acts 2:3) to bring them up to the temperature of glory and to prepare them for the coming judgment of the world by fire.
The battle is engaged. Choose sides. If you think you can remain neutral or stand on some middle ground, I’ve got news for you about which side you’re really on. No third way is given. You’re either on the ark or you’re not. You’re either letting the fire purify you or you’re being reduced to ashes. You’re either on fire by God’s grace (and thereby ready for the coming judgment of the world by fire) or you’re not. The choice is yours. Jesus is passionate to set things right. He has come to cast fire upon the earth.
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