When we look at all the division in our world right now, and we hear Jesus’ words in the Gospel today – about bringing fire and division — we are probably baffled, because this can’t be what he meant, right?
But, taking a step back, we have to realize that authentic, wholehearted faith will always create turmoil and even anguish in our inner world and outer world. For example, people simply desiring to go deeper in prayer will often experience a kind of painful darkness. Over the years, accompanying parishioners on a silent retreat somewhere, you’d be surprised by how many have a tough time initially, in the controlled circumstances of a retreat, because going deeper in prayer brings up inner turmoil. And people who do not even want to bring attention to themselves can find themselves publicly persecuted when they take a principled stand for defending human life and dignity in some way. Look at Jeremiah in the first reading today, and even the author of Hebrews in the second reading, basically saying you have nothing to complain about if you haven’t lost blood for your faith.
So if you’re puzzled by the connection of having faith in Jesus producing division and anguish, if you can’t relate, you have to ask yourself, what am I doing? Is my faith practice too superficial? Deeply-lived faith is necessarily going to lead to a lot of turbulence.
But – and here’s the good news — it won’t end with the turbulence and division. Today’s Psalm 40 speaks to that. God draws us out of the pit of destruction. God leads us out of the dark valley. God is our deliverance.
Faith in Christ leads us both in and out of trouble. And it gets us out of it redemptively, lovingly and peacefully. This all gives us something important and vital to contribute to the troubles and divisions of the world today. Like Jesus, we’ve come to set the earth on fire, but also to put the fire out in a positive transforming way.