20th Sunday in Ordinary Time: “I Came to Bring Fire to the Earth”

THE GOSPEL (Lk 12, 49-53)

At that time, Jesus said to his disciples: “I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already lit! I must receive a baptism, and what anguish is mine until it is accomplished! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For henceforth five persons of the same family will be divided: three against two and two against three; they will be divided: the father against the son and the son against the father, the mother against the daughter and the daughter against the mother, the mother-in-law against the daughter-in-law and the daughter-in-law against the mother-in-law. »

Other readings: Jr 38, 4-6.8-10; Ps 39 (40); Heb 12, 1-4.


In Saint Luke, it is in chapter 9 that a change takes place in the teaching that Jesus gives to his disciples. These, through the voice of Peter, expressed their discovery that Jesus is not only a prophet but that he is “the Christ of God” (Lk 9:20). From then on, Jesus will endeavor to make his disciples understand that this implies his sufferings and his death, which is at odds with their representation of the messiah.

The text that the Church offers us today is part of this itinerary, but the passage has a bearing in relation to the specific announcements of the Passion: Jesus shares with his followers the feelings that inhabit him in the face of this perspective. Throughout his earthly life he was inhabited by the concern to do the will of the Father. Here he not only expresses the will to live “the hour” which is approaching but he speaks of a desire, of a haste to see its realization, not to be done with the suffering which is announces, but because he adheres so deeply to this salvific will that he aspires to its realization whatever the price.


In the first part of this text we can look at two realities that are more complementary than contradictory: those of fire and of baptism, therefore of water. These images evoke for us John the Baptist who announces in Lk 3, 16 that the Messiah, he, “shall baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire”.

By saying that he came to bring fire to the earth, Jesus indicates to us both that the Holy Spirit whom he will deliver to the Cross will purify us and, by reminding us of what he himself taught (Jn 16, 7-8), will associate us with the conflagration of faith, of love, of life, which he came to bring to earth. Christ will thus make us participate in the life of God. At Pentecost, the Church will in turn be responsible for transmitting this fire. So that it never stops burning, it is now up to us to feed it.

The second image is an antithesis of the first because water is traditionally opposed to fire but also because in the first case Jesus is at the initiative and in the second he welcomes this baptism. In the Jordan, he had wanted to receive baptism from the hands of John, showing solidarity with all sinners. By welcoming his Passover, he opens a path of salvation for us, but perhaps we have little awareness of needing to be saved: we rely so much on technology and the various institutions that we no longer recognize the gift of God as such. Jesus, here invites us to know how to receive.

The images of fire and baptism announce the passage of Jesus through suffering and death. The disciples too will be tested simply by following Christ on his way. As Saint Luke specifies elsewhere, Jesus is a “messenger of peace” (Lk 1:79). However, in this passage, we are presented with the evidence that by being faithful to the Gospel we will often be in contradiction with those around us. We risk experiencing the most painful divisions, those that affect family relationships. Jesus warns his audience of this.


Lord Jesus, you who lived totally united with the Father, who shared his desire for our salvation, and sent us the Spirit to make us understand what you had taught, be praised for inviting us to follow you on your way so that all men may be saved. Teach us, following you, to love and trust each other’s future.


→ Another commentary on this Gospel: False securities, by Fr. Marcel Domergue

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20th Sunday in Ordinary Time: “I Came to Bring Fire to the Earth”

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