"I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptised, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."
“A brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.” That is how Nabokov described human existence. E.M. Forster, if I remember rightly, said something similar. “They give birth astride the grave,” wrote Samuel Beckett. There is no dawn, no hope, no future, no meaning. It is a broad theme in modern literature. But if there is no frame of meaning, no big picture (‘meta-narrative’), then the jig-saw pieces are unrelated to one another; individual actions are arbitrary and absurd, like the actions of the young anti-hero in Camus’ L’Étranger.
It is remarkable how frequently Jesus used the phrase “I have come…” in the gospels. “I have come to call not the righteous but sinners" (Lk 5:32); “I came to bring fire to earth” (today’s reading); “I have come in my Father's name” (Jn 5:43); “It is for this reason that I have come to this hour” (Jn 12:27); “I came not to judge the world, but to save the world” (Jn 12:47); “I came from the Father and have come into the world” (Jn 16:28); “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth” (Jn 18:37).... He knew where he came from, and why. To lack any sense of the meaning of one’s life is to become weak and enervated; it is to lack passion. Jesus knew the meaning of his existence and this was why he could bring fire and passion to it.
“I have a baptism with which to be baptised, and what stress I am under until it is completed!” The word ‘baptism’ in Greek means a plunging. He was on fire to plunge into his life’s work. His words were fire, like the words in the mouth of Jeremiah (5:15); “Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” (23:29). The Prince of Peace is not bringing the kind of peace we have when nothing matters. Not that, but a sword to destroy it.
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