Jesus, Prince of peace, is certainly one of the most consoling titles for Christ in our piety. So it is difficult to understand when Jesus speaks in a totally different vein as he does in today’s section from the Gospel according St. Luke, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!”
Before we jump to conclusions about the meaning of such a disturbing statement, it is good to remember that all the Gospels insist that faith in Jesus did cut through Jewish families and social classes like a two-edged sword. Parents and children, as well as in-laws, found themselves at odds with each other in their attitudes about the identity of Jesus and what impact he would have on their religious practice. Simeon’s words to the mother of Jesus in the Temple decades earlier would eventually be realized. “Behold this child is destined for the rise and fall of many in Israel…(Luke 2:34)
When Jesus speaks of ‘casting fire’ on the earth, he is dramatically describing what did happen because of his ministry. Just as fire burns everything in its path and casts a judgment on the earth, so his arrival in our history has initiated a searing, purifying experience, which will not leave us untouched. One way or the other, we must take a stand about Jesus, no matter what our starting point is religiously.
Many people raised in one faith tradition experience pressure to marry within their own family tradition. Where various groups live more insulated from contact with people of different faith traditions or cultures, life might is simpler. But today’s experience of highly mobile global community brings together young people of different faiths or no faith, whose marriage may become a source of anguish for one family or another. Would that Christ could be a bond of peace and not division in such cases!
But even if it is not so easy, families which include members who are active in different religious traditions can also enrich and inspire other family members to greater fidelity and conviction in their own spiritual journey. Though differences remain, perhaps even then Christ can be a bond of peace at a deep level of spiritual relationship.
(Father Paul Zilonka, C.P. is a Member of the Passionist Preaching Team of St. Paul of the Cross Province).