On my family’s farm in the winter, we cut firewood for fuel to warm our house. The firewood was stacked in piles to be carried home and the brush we burned to free up land for grazing cattle. One fire cleansed the earth for pastureland, and the other warmed our home.
God’s word is a blazing fire that destroys sin, while warming hearts with the love of God.
In the first reading, Jeremiah spoke the word of God to the king to stop him from fighting against a superior enemy. The people didn’t want to hear this, so some princes went to the weak king, Zedekiah, who acceded to their wishes that Jeremiah be done away with. They lowered him into the mud of a cistern, left to die. Faithful Jeremiah was a forerunner of Jesus. Some Scripture scholars think this might have been the same cistern into which Jesus was placed the night before He was crucified.
However, the word of God remained alive in the heart of a court official, who went to King Zedekiah and pleaded for Jeremiah’s life. The king relented and spared Jeremiah. The fire of God’s love is very much alive in the midst of a world of sin. Jeremiah bravely gives witness to the fire of God’s love, wanting to save the Israelites from destruction.
Not much has changed between the time of Jeremiah and that of Jesus. The fire of God’s love is still confronting sin in the world.
In the Gospel, we might not think that the Prince of Peace would ever say: “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, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!”
Mankind is riddled with sin, and Christ has come to plunge Himself into the midst of this sin to purify with His blood and fill hearts with love.
Jesus continues: “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three…” When Christ offers His good news of salvation, some members of the household will accept it and be saved; others will find it as bad news for their life of sin, and not only reject the good news but even turn against those who are living it. They can’t stand to have their sinful lifestyle contradicted by members of their own household.
In the persecution that follows, believers have an incredible power to fight back — not with swords, clubs or spears, but love in the form of intercessory prayer. Far from turning against the unbelievers, they will turn against the evil instigator of the persecution, Satan himself.
They will ask Jesus to place a wedge between their persecutors and the Evil One and then pray for the conversion of their persecutors without rancor. In this way, hatred will leave the perpetrators and then the formerly persecuted will no longer have to be angry at them.
This opens the way for compassion for the enemy. Seen in this light, the perceived human enemy isn’t the real enemy. The real enemy is the invisible one, the Evil One. He will quickly know that he has been given a fatal blow by the forgiveness coming from the persecuted, turned intercessors. Recall Stephen forgiving Saul.
Jesus entered the battle against sin and will not abandon mankind until He has vanquished the enemy through His baptism of blood on Calvary. Yes, Jesus is the Prince of Peace, only because He made war against Satan and sin, and has won for us the way to peace.
In the second reading, Paul reminds us that the battle against sin and Satan still rages. So many have bravely given their lives for their faith and are now witnessing the battle from heaven, cheering on the followers of Christ.
On the other hand there is a great cloud of witnesses on earth, interceding and giving courage to those faithful who are struggling against sin, and in a special way interceding for those who are being persecuted.
At the end of this reading, Paul gives us some encouraging words. He tells us to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. “For the sake of the joy that lay before Him He endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken His seat at the right of the throne of God.”
Yes, throughout His witnessing here on earth, Jesus kept His eyes focused on the Father and Jesus’ place at the Father’s right hand. That brought Him joy!
Paul concludes this exhortation to fidelity by reminding us: “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.”
These readings are profoundly encouraging. The sins of others discourage us, and sometimes our sins discourage us even more. Take heart! You have Jesus as your savior and your friend. He wants to forgive you even more than you long for forgiveness. Talk to Him as a personal friend. Tell Him that your weaknesses sometimes get to you, and listen to what He has to tell you.
I think He would say to you: “My Father sent me to you precisely because He knew you needed my special help. There is no sin I will not forgive in the Sacrament of My Mercy.”