The Flame

13 Pentecost

First reading and psalm: Isa. 5:1-7 • Ps. 80:1-2, 8-18

Alternate: Jer. 23:23-29 • Ps. 82 • Heb. 11:29-12:2 • Luke 12:49-56

“Is not my word like fire, says the Lord?” (Jer. 23:29). “I come to bring fire to the earth,” says the Prince of Peace, “and how I wish it were already kindled” (Luke 12:49). Make no mistake. Believe not your pastel holy cards. “Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” (Luke 12:51).

Jesus takes up a destructive work, walking directly into the camp of sin, the flesh, and the devil. Though wedded in love to us by the truth of his human nature and power of his divine being, he never nods his consent to human depravity. His love is the white flame that burns away our self-destruction, leaving only the brilliance of his own burning. Living in him, we fall to dust and ashes while he becomes all in all. And yet this destructive burning away of the dross of human corruption, this falling into nothingness, is the suchness that is the foundation of a liberated human being. Forgiven and free, the new being steps forth.

Although the work of this divine love is a grace from beginning to end, there is still a human work to be done. God gives the resources, and graces us with work. He has called us again into a garden, a vineyard. “He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it” (Isa. 5:2). If we but play our part by the sweat of our brow, wine may flow at the harvest festival. But it is not so. “He expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.”

Isaiah lifts the veil of his metaphor: “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry” (Isa. 5:7). Let the flame blow; let destruction devour. Blame God and you will hear divine resignation: “What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it?” (Isa. 5:4)

There is great uneasiness in these texts, which is why there is ever a desire for the drone of soft lies, prophecies born from a deceitful human heart (Jer. 23:26). Jesus loves you just the way you are! If you refers to the person Christ created and calls into the full stature of his own divine life, then assuredly and without reserve, Jesus loves you. But finding you as you are, necessarily a person of a sin-rich environment, he loves not what is contorted in you, but works as the burning Son who sets free. Speaking and listening, opening a withered hand, strengthening feeble legs, cauterizing an issue of blood, opening blind eyes, unstopping deaf ears, unlocking a tied tongue, mending minds, calling life from death: Jesus stops the turning world and says, “The kingdom of God is at hand.”

Believing what I have said as a truth of our faith — that Jesus is a raging flame of righteousness, and that his burning is itself all one with his love, for burning us clean, we become what he is by adoption and grace — is made possible by the example of a great cloud of witnesses (Heb. 12:1). Seeing patriarchs, prophets, apostles, family, friends, and neighbors, we shed the weight of every sin that clings so closely, and go on in the race set before us.

Look It Up
Read Ps. 80:3. We are saved by the light of his countenance.

Think About It
You will never find an easy Jesus.

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