A Preacher’s Perspective: Jesus, Jeremiah & Fire
Jesus speaks to us today in the Gospel according to Luke of fire and baptism: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized…” (Lk 12:49-50). In this Gospel, the fire Jesus brought upon the earth, that is upon us Christians, male and female-a St Cyril interpretation of the words, “the earth,” is the fire of purification and enlightenment; it consumes our impurities and imprints the love of God in our soul. When I baptized Hailey Marie in the course our parish 11 AM mass on August 11, she received the light of Christ I handed to her through her godparents, this light symbolizes her “enlightenment by Christ.” The fire Christ ignites in the sacrament of initiation signifies the love, Spirit and teachings of Christ, the light of faith that should be kept burning until Christ returns. Like Hailey Marie, we who are earthly and carnal are spiritually refined by this fire of the Holy Spirit, the fire of divine love that resuscitates us to life from the death of sin. Again, St Cyril describes it as “that wholesome and useful fire by which the inhabitants of earth, in a manner cold and dead through sin, (are) revive to a life of piety.” This fire ignited in us by Christ is a gift that must be continuously “fanned into flame” (2 Timothy 1:6) to bear gifts and fruits of the spirit, especially a bold witness to Christ and his teachings.
When we allow the fire of Christ love to burn in us, that love urges us on to speak of Christ and live radically for Christ. We can identify a similar urging of the divine fire at work in Jeremiah who in our first reading is thrown into the muddy cistern to die for “demoralizing the soldiers… and all the people, by speaking such things to them” (Jeremiah 38:4). What things? Divine truth about God’s will for his people concerning their enemies. When we are on fire for God, like Jeremiah, God will “put a new song into our mouth” (Ps. 40:4), songs of praise and worship that the force of falsehood will try to suppress and in the process, again like Jeremiah, lead to our affliction and rejection by the world of sin. But we have to “persevere in running the race that lies before us” bearing in mind that in our“ struggle against sin” we “have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood” ( Heb 12:4 ). Let’s continue to resist sin and the forces of evil.
As Christians, Christ has set us on fire through baptism and it is our responsibility to embolden and spread that fire through prayers and penance. And as we persevere in running the race that ends in the beatific vision of heaven, let’s be prepared for opposition and pains that accompany the spread of the fire of Christ love. Like Jeremiah and Jesus, we should be determined to overcome our struggle against sin by fixing our mind on Jesus and the eternal rewards at the end of our race. Let’s set the space of our hearts on fire to become like Jeremiah and Jesus in our witness to the Gospel ( permit me to add as an aside, like the incendiary stage performances of the American R&B band, Earth, Wind & Fire!-pun intended).
In what ways can you keep the fire of Christ burning in you this week?
In Christ’s Love and Joy,
Fr. Bernard Oniwe, OP