The Fire That Purifies
Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Archbishop Loren Thomas Hines
August 18, 2019
Readings: Jeremiah 23:23-29, Psalm 82
Today’s readings, especially the Gospel can be very confusing if you don’t allow the Holy Spirit to give understanding. Jesus said, “I have come to cast fire upon the earth….” For most of us, fire is an element of destruction. In this case, it’s also an element of destruction but in a different way. This fire that Jesus has cast upon the earth is a fire of purification, one that removes all evil. This was the purpose of Christ’s coming – to bring fire upon the earth that will cleanse the earth. He goes on to say, “….and how I wish it were already kindled.” This means that when He said this, it hasn’t come to pass. Then He said, “But I have a baptism to undergo and how distressed I am until it is accomplished.” He wasn’t talking about a baptism of water but of fire. He would go through torture, death and hell. We see these things as difficult and evil and if they were to happen to us, we would believe that God is against us. But this was Jesus, the Son of God. He faced these trials for a purpose – for the cleansing and purification of the earth. We need to understand this because it causes division. When people hear the Gospel, some will accept it but some will not. In some homes, the husband and wife go to different churches and their children to another. They are divided because of how they interpret and accept the Word. God’s Word is intended for unity but we have shepherds who mislead the flock.
In the Old Testament reading, Jeremiah was being misled by prophets who had dreams that they interpret according to their own understanding and they were turning people away from the God; they made people forget God’s name by their dreams. They prophesied falsehood out of the deception of their own heart. God told Jeremiah, “Am I who God who is near and not far off?” He’s saying that He knows what’s going on, what these prophets were doing to His people. It challenges leadership to be careful about what they teach. They shouldn’t turn people away from the ways of God. A leader who teaches that God wants you to be blessed and enjoy life, just doing whatever you want is misleading you. God does want us to have joy and peace, but that should come from walking with Him. This is the struggle that many people go through. They want peace and joy but they don’t want to obey. Obedience is necessary.
Christ came to bring fire to the earth, to cleanse and purify it. We live in an age where everybody has his own version of the truth. Some leaders have come up with their own doctrines. It doesn’t mean you can’t have a dream provided it’s consistent with the principles of God. If you have a dream of replacing somebody, it is clearly not of God because God has already set His plan. The responsibilities of leadership are enormous. You have to be careful not to lead the flock astray. The Old Testament refers to leaders as shepherds leading the flock. God said He would never leave us nor forsake us.
Jesus said that He had a baptism to undergo. This is a unique baptism. The original meaning of baptism is “to be placed under”. If it’s a baptism of water, you have to be put under water, but this won’t kill you. You are put under water then taken out of it. Being placed under water through tests, difficulties and whatever comes our way doesn’t mean death because we’re coming out of it. You will not stay in the test or difficulty if you have faith that you will come out of it victorious. God will not destroy you. He may discipline you for a time because if He doesn’t discipline you, you aren’t a son. In many families today, there’s no discipline because the parent/child relationship is non-existent. It’s the parents’ responsibility to direct and discipline their children. In some places you can get arrested if you discipline your child. That’s how far away we’ve gone from God. Many teachings are humanistic, misleading the people. We’re human; we don’t know everything. But if our hearts are in the right place, God will lead us. We’re changing from glory to glory. If we’re staying the same way, something’s wrong. God has given us everything, but what are we doing with what He’s given us? Are we living in fear, doubt and anxiety? It’s not what God wants for us.
Jesus said, “I give you peace.” If you study the Scriptures, there may be confusion because if Jesus gave peace, why do we have wars and all sorts of strife and unrest? In Revelation 6, we are challenged to understand time. Jesus said you can tell the seasons by reading the sky, but most of the time we don’t understand the things that are happening around us. Revelation 6:4 says, “And another, a red horse, went out; and to whom who sat on it, it was granted to take peace from the earth, and that men would slay one another….” This is already happening. Revelation is not just about the future; it’s the past, present and future. Peace has been taken from the earth. There are senseless killings in public places – in schools and malls. The peace that Christ gives is given to individuals and is not intended for all mankind. You must be in the Kingdom to receive this peace. That peace is ours in the midst of conflict and turmoil.
Hebrews talks about the things that Christ has undergone and calls us to be like Him. He didn’t give up in the midst of the battle. In Gethsemane He asked His disciples to stay and pray with Him while He prayed alone. He needed their support and help as He went through the test, but they went to sleep. He was accused falsely, beaten and crucified but He didn’t give up; in the end, He was resurrected. Baptism is an immersion in water but you’re coming up to victory. Don’t give up. Don’t think that your life will be without testing. Discipline is an act of love. If you’re not being tested, you’re not a child of God. Discipline isn’t meant to destroy us but to strengthen us. A baptized person is born again and becomes one with Christ, so there’s always something that will come out of the test.
Jesus said we must know the times. Do we see Revelation 6 as a portend that the end will come when men will be killing one another senselessly? We need to be alert to this. This is happening because peace has been taken away and man has allowed evil to rule his life. But we as individuals can have the peace of Christ. It’s from the world that the peace has been taken away from. We hear of wars and rumors of war – the Chinese taking over Philippine waters, etc. This is where we are in the time of God. But we must realize that God has given His peace to His children. We are to be the light of the world.
In Isaiah 53:10-11, we know that the purpose of the crushing of Christ is to conquer all evil in the world. Because of the work of Christ, evil no longer has the power to rule and reign. It pleased God to crush His Son because of His love for us. Christ wasn’t destroyed by it because He is now seated at the right hand of the Father. He went through the discipline for us, in our place. This is why we have the responsibility to live as His witnesses.
Hebrews 12 tells us to lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, for us to run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith. If Jesus did it, we can do overcome all trials, for as long as we fix our eyes on Him. We won’t be destroyed but come out into life because of God’s love. Momentarily tests will come upon us but we must conquer them. We ask God to take away our tests, pain and difficulties, but God is telling us that He gave us the authority to overcome evil. We may not understand everything that’s happening but we don’t let that weaken our faith. We forge ahead and conquer the problem, proving that God’s life is in us.
Jesus went through fire and water and brought us into a place of abundance. Psalm 66: 12b “We went through fire and water, yet you brought us out into a place of abundance”. This speaks of Israel coming out of Egypt, a symbolism for the life God has given us. Christ is to us what Moses was to them. Hebrews 12:3 tells us, “For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Don’t give up, even if it takes longer than you expect. You go to sleep in darkness but when you wake up, the sun is shining. God wants us to walk in the light, not in the darkness. This is how we ought to live. This is the 9 th week of Ordinary Time and again I ask you, what is your progress? Are you changing? You shouldn’t be the same today as you were yesterday. You should be growing in Christ, step by step. In the beginning, the test may be small, but as you conquer it greater ones will come. He gives us the power and strength to conquer them. He is the strength of our life, our hope and our everything. We are challenged to wake up. We are to run the race, fixing our eyes on Jesus. When we see Him we will know Him because we will be like Him.