In the Gospel Reading, Jesus says that he has come to set the world on fire. This fire, he says, will destroy peace. It will produce divisions even within a family.
Is this nice? Is this loving? Aren’t we supposed to live in peace with everybody? How can Jesus say he came on purpose to set things on fire?
Well, what is peace anyway?
Peace is a kind of order and unity, isn’t it? We have peace with other people when we are at one with each other—and when our oneness unites us around goodness. That last condition matters. A mother who is at one with her toddler because she does everything he wants does not have peace. She just has capitulation to his baby will, and her knuckling under to him might be very destructive to him. Peace results only when she and her toddler at one with each other in what is good for both of them, for her as mother and for him as baby.
And, of course, the same point applies to adults. If you hear your neighbor’s wife screaming because he is beating her, then there is no peace in your trying to be at one with him. If you try to see things from the point of view of that wife-beater and just accept what he is doing, you are not at peace with him. You are just complicit in his crime. Even if you only try not to get involved, turning up the TV louder so you can’t hear her cries, you are not at peace with him. You are only conniving at his evil and adding your own cowardice to the list of your sins.
So there is no peace for you in your failure to confront a wrongdoer. And notice that your failure to confront him doesn’t result in peace for him either. We have it on the authority of Scripture that there is no peace for the wicked (Isaiah 48:22, 57:21)
So if you hear your neighbor beating his wife, call 911, or grab your baseball bat and go next door. Do what it takes to stop him. If you love the Lord’s goodness and your neighbor’s, then you will hate the evil your neighbor is doing.
So be on fire for goodness. Our God is a consuming fire of love, and there is peace for us only if we are at one with him in that fire.
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University