The Battle Is Engaged — Choose Sides!
User’s Guide to Sunday, Aug. 14
The readings today speak of a great cosmic battle that is taking place all around us. In the Gospel, Jesus speaks of it vividly and of his own mission to engage our ancient foe and to gather God’s elect back from the enslaving clutches of Satan, who was a murderer and a liar from the beginning (John 8:44). Let’s consider Jesus’ description in the Gospel of this cosmic battle and of his own great mission as the great Shepherd of the sheep.
A Passion to Purify
Jesus begins by saying, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” The Lord has come to purify us, by the fiery power of his love, his grace and his word. He has a passion to set things right. But purification is seldom easy or painless, hence the image of fire. In this great cosmic battle, fire must be cast upon the earth, not only to purify but to distinguish. There are things that will be made pure, but only if other things are burnt away and reduced to ashes. This image of fire is important because many people today have reduced faith to seeking enrichment and blessings. Faith surely supplies these, but it also demands that we take up our cross and follow Christ without compromise. The battle is engaged. Choose sides. You’re either letting the fire purify you or you’re being reduced to ashes. The choice is yours. Jesus is passionate to set things right. He has come to cast fire on the earth.
A Painful Path
The text says, “There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!” In waging war on our behalf against the evil one, Jesus does not sit in some comfortable headquarters behind the front lines. He goes out “on point,” taking the hill of Calvary and leading us over the top to the Resurrection glory. He endures every blow, every hardship on our behalf. It is a painful path, and he speaks of his anguish in doing it. But having won the victory, he now turns to us and invites us to follow him, through the cross to glory.
A Piercing Purgation
In words that are nothing less than shocking, the Lord says, “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division …” The words shock, but they speak a truth that sets aside worldly notions of compromise and coexistence with evil. In order for there to be true peace, holiness and victory over Satan, there must be distinction not equivocation, clarity not compromise. This is often true even in our deepest family relationships, which must be subordinated to the Gospel. Even if family members reject us, we must choose the Lord.
One way to understand this is to think of an analogy to a surgeon’s scalpel. The surgeon must wield this “sword” to separate out healthy flesh from that which is diseased. Coexistence is not possible; the diseased flesh has to go. The moment one talks of “coexisting” with cancer, the disease wins. Were a doctor to take this stance, he would be guilty of malpractice. When there is cancer, the battle must be engaged.
And thus the Lord speaks to us of a cosmic battle in the Valley of Decision (Joel 3). The cosmic battle is engaged. The fire is cast, and the sword of the Spirit and God’s word is being wielded.