Today’s gospel reading is striking. Sometimes when we read the Gospel stories, we can easily imagine the vocal undertone of Jesus’ words. Like any other person, sometimes his voice would have been gentle and calm, and sometimes it would have been tense. In today’s gospel Jesus proclaims: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing” (Luke 12:49). There’s a vibrant urgency to these words that must have been apparent in his voice. What does he mean? Why is he so passionate about this? In the ancient Jewish world, fire was generally associated with judgment. We usually associate judgment with punishment – yet Christ himself said in the Gospel of John that he did not come to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. So what kind of judgment does Jesus bring? He brings the judgment of the Cross. He brings the judgment that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son for us. He brings the judgment that brought St. Paul to exclaim that “he loved me and he gave himself for me.” So when we really look at the crucifix we see the judgment of God. We see the horror of sin, and the infinitely greater love of God who came to die to set us free from sin and unite us to himself. Christ reaffirms this in today’s Gospel when he says that there is a baptism with which he must be baptized, and that he’s in anguish until it’s accomplished. The Greek verb we translate as baptize is baptizein, which literally means to submerge. It refers to a difficult experience, and here Christ is referring to his suffering, death, and resurrection. Christ came, then, to set the earth on fire by his death and resurrection, that has brought us into a new relationship with him, setting us free to truly love him and, in him, to truly love others. In turn, he invites us to share in that cruciform fire, to say with him: “I also have a mission to set the world on fire with freedom and love for God.”
St. John’s Church will be celebrating 30 years as a parish in 2020, and this weekend we kick off our campaign Make Church Matter. This upcoming week you will be receiving brochure and a Commitment Card in the mail. I invite you to prayerfully fill out the commitment card and bring it back to the church next weekend at all Masses (August 24-25) where it will be collected at the Offertory. If for some reason you do not receive a Commitment Card, the ushers next week will have extra cards next week that can be filled out during Mass. I am very grateful for your support of our parish family of St. John’s.