August 13, 2016
“I came to hurl fire upon the earth.” (Lk 12:49)
Something needs to happen. We cannot go on this way.
This heart, this world is sick.
“From the sole of the foot to the head
there is no sound spot in it;
Just bruise and welt and oozing wound,
not drained, or bandaged,
or eased with salve.” (Is 1:6)
Isaiah calls out this message at the beginning of Advent, but it is the prophet Jeremiah, whose passion we glimpse in the first reading, who takes the theme to its conclusion. Jeremiah is the one who can explain to me Jesus’ strange and frightening words today.
“They have treated the wound
of my people carelessly,
saying ‘Peace, peace,’
when there is no peace.” (Jer 6:14; 8:11)
For Jeremiah, the infidelity of his people, their injustice, oppression, greed, violence and rejection of God, is a gaping wound:
“Let me eyes run down with tears
night and day, and let them not cease,
for the virgin daughter – my people –
is struck down with a crushing blow,
with a very grievous wound.” (Jer 14:17)
But this wound is not found only in the people to whom Jeremiah has been sent; it is also in Jeremiah himself:
“Why is my pain unceasing,
my wound incurable,
refusing to be healed?” (Jer 15:18)
Jeremiah cannot say “peace, peace,” because he feels the fire of God’s word blazing within him:
“If I say, ‘I will not mention him,
or speak any more in his name,’
then within me there is
something like a burning fire
shut up in my bones;
I am weary of holding it in,
and I cannot.” (Jer 20:9)
God called Jeremiah to speak hard truths to the people in order to save them:
“I am now making my words in your mouth a fire,
and this people wood, and the fire shall devour them.” (Jer 5:4)
As a result of his fidelity, Jeremiah suffered ridicule, threats and violence, culminating in imprisonment and being put in a dry cistern to die of starvation.
Jeremiah is a figure of Christ.
Jesus uses two images: that of fire, which is associated with judgment, purification and sacrifice, and that of baptism, a “dipping” in water which similarly denotes judgment, purification and sacrifice (because it refers to his death). Fire consumes and transforms and consecrates to God. Likewise, one who is baptized dies to the old life and emerges to new life in God.
Death by fire or by water.
New life from the ashes or from the depths.
Teilhard de Chardin says that fire upon the earth is epiclesis: the descent of the Holy Spirit, and fire in the earth is consecration: all creation becoming Christ.
The fire Christ desires to hurl upon the earth is the Holy Spirit: consuming fire and cleansing water. He does this not by calling down violent retribution on those who offend God by their lives. No, Jesus takes seriously the wound of the virgin daughter – his people – and takes it to himself. Through his baptism into our death, his body bares the wounds of the world. This is the baptism that he yearns and is in anguish to complete. As he consecrates himself to the Father, he likewise consecrates the world, setting it ablaze to bring about a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
“Behold, I make all things new.” (Rev 21:5)