Luke 12, 49-53: Fire, Baptizein, and Division
In Jewish thought, fire was always the symbol of judgment or divine punishment. But Jesus was not speaking of a vengeful and destructive fire, as one who would exact punishment. In Luke 9, 54-56, Jesus sternly rebukes James and John who plan on “bidding fire to come down from heaven” on those unwelcoming Samaritans. St. Gregory the Great, Ambrose, Cyril of Alexandria and Jerome say this fire is a symbolic fire, like the Holy Spirit. Jesus speaks of a fire in the hearts of men and women. In Luke 24, 32, the fire in the hearts of the disciples of Emmaus, who said, “Are not our hearts burning?” is the type of fire that Jesus encouraged to be kindled.
Jesus said, “I have a baptism to be baptized with.” The Greek verb baptizein means to dip, to be submerged. It has several use and meanings: a) as a ship sunk beneath the sea; b) as a man submerged in wine, that he was dead-drunk; c) as a student submerged in a teacher’s questions/exam; d) as a person submerged in some grip or terrible experience: “Malas talaga ako.” Jesus used the word baptizein in the last sense (d) to mean that he is going to experience a terrible thing, but through which He has to pass so that He will emerge triumphant.
Thus, His coming eventually means division. Over and over again, Christianity divides people--- not just families, friends but even groups. We are always presented with a choice of priority and importance: Which do you love most, your family or your God? The essence of loyalty is with Christ. As they said, “we belong to our families, our line, but we also belong to God.”
Let us reflect on the point of the Gospel. The fire referred here is a fire burning in the heart of Christ. It is God’s will that something in our hearts should be kept aflame. We have met people whose hearts are consumed by a passion for justice, peace and healing. We have seen people who have dedicated their lives for noble cause: they are in the hospitals caring for the sick; tending the prisoners, and teaching catechism. They have in turn set us afire.
I present a question to ponder: What person are you? Cold or Warm? Are you contented with just what is there, or are your hearts burning and desiring for something more? And inasmuch as we want to light up the earth with the fire of love, to bring about a change or a revolution of perspectives and structures, we are also driven to the same baptism as that of Jesus. We are to suffer division, pain and failure and rejection; and to choose between our friends and the ideals we would live by. Christianity is not just being nice. It means being angry at times, confronting injustice, and making a stand. This Gospel is meant to shake us from being cold-hearted into Christians with hearts ablazed.
*C5 in the MTV Shoot of "O Bayan ng Diyos"