The Lord doesn’t sugarcoat reality on our account. In today’s reading from Luke 12, Jesus tells us, ““I have come to set the earth on fire and how I wish it were already blazing…Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”
The juxtaposition of Jesus’ desire to set fire on earth and the continuing terrible news of persecutions, murders and burning of Christian churches by those who don’t believe that Christ is the Son of God cannot be overlooked. How is it that the “fire on earth” right now is being set so visibly by those who dispute Jesus’ claim that God is his Father? How is it that, as St. Paul tells us, Jesus is our peace and still Jesus tells us that he didn’t come to earth to establish peace but rather division?
In answering these questions, the movie “Of Gods and Men” came to mind. It is the true story of the murder of a group of monks in Algeria in 1996. The movie eloquently portrays the struggle that each of these men faced interiorly as they decided whether to stay among those who were hostile to their way of life or leave. In the end, each decided that they followed a Crucified Christ and they had to be true to that calling so they stayed.
The movie ends poignantly by quoting the letter that Fr. Christian, the head of the Trappist community, left behind:
“I have lived long enough to know that I, too, am an accomplice of the evil that seems to prevail in the world around, even that which might lash out blindly at me. If the moment comes, I would hope to have the presence of mind, and the time, to ask for God’s pardon and for that of my fellowman, and, at the same time, to pardon in all sincerity him who would attack me.”
And he continues, addressing his unknown attacker:
“And to you, too, my friend of the last moment, who will not know what you are doing. Yes, for you, too, I wish this thank-you, this “A-Dieu,” whose image is in you also, that we may meet in heaven, like happy thieves, if it pleases God, our common Father.”
In this beautiful letter that was published posthumously, Fr. Christian illustrates, by his writing and by his life, the fire that Jesus set on earth: The Fire of Forgiveness. Far from being a passive, spineless reaction to violence, the Fire of Forgiveness can only be set by those who live in Christ, the One forgave each of us from the Cross. This Fire is divisive because it clearly demonstrates who are the true followers of Christ. This Fire is explosive because it is something that this world cannot generate or give and so it speaks “in clarion tones” of the reality of Christ’s Kingdom.
Dear Jesus, set this Fire of Forgiveness in my heart and let it consume me. Amen.