Psalm 33:1-2,4-5, 11-12,18-19
Today’s Gospel is not easy to understand: if Jesus is the “prince of peace” (Isaiah 9:6) and gives the gift of peace to his Apostles after the Resurrection, why does he say in today’s Gospel that he came not to give peace, but to bring division? How can we reconcile this with his message of love, communion, mercy, eternal life, salvation, and the Kingdom of love, justice and peace?
To answer these questions, it is good to look at other expressions of Jesus’ mission. For example, Jesus came to fulfill the Father’s will, to gather the lost tribes of Israel, to gather all men to himself, to inaugurate the Kingdom of God, to bring the Old Law to fulfillment in the New, to establish a New Covenant in his blood, to teach us the way to life, to forgive sins by offering himself, to bring us into communion with the Father, and to send the Holy Spirit, who will guide us to all truth.
Jesus tells us today that he came to cast fire on the earth. Fire is an image of God’s presence and love; it is an image of God’s judgment of sinners; it is also an image of divine purification. Jesus brings us the fire of God’s love, he invites sinners to repent and he purifies us from our sin. Jesus then refers not to his Baptism by John in the Jordan, but to his future Baptism on the Cross. He desires to save us, loves us, and is willing to be sacrificed for our sins.
Jesus began his public ministry proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is at hand. At the Last Supper and on the Cross, the Kingdom is inaugurated. And so, when Jesus speaks about the division he will bring, he is saying that the “time of tribulation is at hand, and I have come to unleash it”. He says this because the heart of his mission is to inaugurate the coming of the Kingdom of God. The exile is over, but this means inaugurating the tribulation, characterized by a time of interfamilial strife and division within, Israel, that precedes the coming of the kingdom and the New Exodus (see B. Pitre, Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile, Baker Academic, 216).
When Jesus begins his ministry the people of Israel are in exile; they are waiting for the Shepherd who will restore them and bring them into one flock. With Jesus, the Good Shepherd and the royal descendant of David, the exile is over and a New Exodus is begun. This New Exodus leads not to an earthly promised land, but to a heavenly one. We, then, are walking with Jesus, the New Moses or the prophet-like-Moses, and are lead by the cloud and fire of the Holy Spirit to our heavenly home.
Saint Paul also speaks about very deep mysteries in his prayer for the Ephesians. He kneels before God the Father in prayer and makes five petitions for his readers (see P. Williamson, Ephesians, Baker Academic, 96-101). First, he asks that they be strengthen with the power of the Holy Spirit. Second, he asks that Jesus may dwell in their hearts. This is where Jesus wants to dwell and reign. As Christians, we live in Christ and he lives in us. Third, Paul asks that they may understand. This could refer to God’s loving plan of salvation and the wisdom of the Cross. Fourth, Paul wants his readers to know the love of Christ. Each day, we have to experience Christ’s merciful love. Lastly, Paul wants the Ephesians to be filled with the fullness of God. This sums up the other petitions. For, through grace, the Trinity dwells in us, and we share in the wisdom of the Son and the love of the Holy Spirit. Through grace, we are granted the wisdom to see things from God’s perspective and we are enabled to love God and our neighbor.
As we journey through the desert to our heavenly home, we are lead by Jesus and the Spirit, sustained with the New Manna of the Eucharist, guided by the New Law of charity and enjoy the peace of the New Covenant. We are called to invite all men and women to share in these riches and journey with us to heaven, where every tear will be wiped away and where death and sin are no more.
Readers may contact Fr Jason Mitchell at email@example.com.