This Sunday’s gospel (Lk. 12:49-53) presents us with this truth for our consideration. Christ speaks here as with a sense of urgency! I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! What Christ brings to us is not a theory or a proposal but the very fire of God’s love! This fire has a name: compassion. At one point in Matthew’s gospel we are told that when Christ looked out on the vast crowd he had compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And how great is our Lord’s anguish until it is accomplished! Our Lord burns with the love of the Father which is the love of compassion!
Unfortunately, in our world, this love can be obscured and even suffocated. The violence and indifference of our world can suffocate compassion. Even we disciples can suffocate compassion when we turn from the invitation of our Lord to follow solely our own priorities and interests. It is easy to resign ourselves to the world thinking, “well, that is just the way things are…”
But, the Lord continually comes to us and says, I have come to set the earth on fire… Do you think that I have come to establish peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. True compassion, when lived and witnessed, shocks us because – if even just for a moment – it forces our gaze away from ourselves and toward another.
This is the divisive peace that our Lord brings to the earth. The peace of the gospel is not the world’s peace – peace as a nice, reassuring intimacy and justification for isolation. Christ did not come to the earth to defend the peace of our little self-centeredness; rather, he came to hold forth the call of love for others, for compassion. Christ did not come to defend the peace of the rich man who did not notice the starving Lazarus at his door, nor did Christ come to defend the peace of the priest and the Levite who avoided the man lying helpless on the road. This is not peace. Rather it is avarice, meanness, insensitivity and just plain sin.
Peace cannot exist without strong and compassionate love!
The peace that Christ brings is divisive! It divides us from our self-centeredness. It divides us from our insensitivity to the needs of others. It divides us from attitudes of resignation and withdrawal. It shifts our focus and our heart toward the other in his or her need. It will not allow us to resign ourselves to a comfortable, yet ultimately life-denying, sense of isolation.
The fire that Christ brings to earth is the fire of God’s compassion. It continues to burn and it continues to purify!
Lord, enkindle in us the fire of your love!
(Some thoughts in this reflection are borrowed from Bp. Vincenzo Paglia’s reflection on this Sunday’s readings.)