There is a show on the History channel entitled, “Forged in Fire,” and it highlights the blacksmithing trade. The blacksmiths are able to take a piece of metal and forge it into something beautiful and useful. The forging of the metal can only take place after the metal has been placed in fire and heated to white hot temperatures. If the metal was not submitted to the fire then the blacksmiths could hammer on the metal all day and there would be no change in the object. However, when the metal is placed into the fire and heated it is able to be transformed and become something new and beautiful. The hammer is able to shape the object into its new form. During this process any imperfections in the metal are revealed and often can be corrected.
In the gospel of Luke, Jesus makes a rather difficult, disturbing and enigmatic statement: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” (Lk 12,49) I’m sure there have been many different explanations attempted for this verse but perhaps we can look at it in light of the work of the blacksmith. I can imagine that for Jesus it must have been frustrating to be preaching the Word of God and proclaiming his Kingdom and to receive a cold reception from many of the people to whom his Word was directed. It would be like a blacksmith hammering on cold steel and producing no results. Just as the blacksmith would long for a fire to make into a forge so that the metal could be transformed into something new, so would Jesus be yearning for a fire to be set on the earth so that his Word might be the hammer that could forge the souls of God’s people into a people of the New Covenant. If the whole earth were blazing in fire then the hammer of the Word could be more effective in forging the recipients into something corresponding to the will of the blacksmith. Where could one find a fire such as this that would prepare the metal for its transformation?
When Moses first encountered God in the bush, he appeared as a fire that would consume but not destroy the object it inhabited. The fire in the bush was a manifestation of God’s glory. A while later, the entire people of Israel encounter God at Mt. Sinai and we are told, “And the sight of the glory of the LORD was like a consuming fire on the mountaintop in the eyes of the Israelites.” (Ex 24,17) God appears to the people to be a fire that consumes the entire mountain and causes fear among the people such that they ask Moses if he will go up on the mountain to meet the Lord there. Later still, as the people prepare to cross over into the Promised Land, Moses leaves his people with these parting words: “I myself shall die in this country without crossing the Jordan; but you will cross over and take possession of that good land. Take heed, therefore, lest, forgetting the covenant which the Lord, your God, has made with you, you fashion for yourselves against his command an idol in any form whatsoever. For the Lord, your God, is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” (Deut 4,22ff) Out of the fire that the people built to melt their gold there came the idol of the Golden Calf. Human beings forge only idols but God forms the human heart. The forge of God’s love produces new life. The writers of Hebrews reminds us: “For our God is a consuming fire.” (Heb 12,29) The consuming fire of God’s love, given through the Holy Spirit that descends upon the apostles as “tongues of fire”, is the fire for which Jesus is longing.
Submitted to the consuming fire of God’s love until we ourselves become fire, until we are transformed by God’s love, not conformed to the world, and are able to be forged by the hammer of God’s Word into a useful vessel for his will and purpose, and then immersed in the water of baptism to be hardened like steel into a new person, ready to live in the newness of life in Christ, we fall into the hands of the living God. St. Catherine of Siena wrote in her Dialogues, “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” (St. Catherine of Siena) Jesus brought the fire of God’s love into this world through his baptism on the cross. The cross of Christ still burns with love and has set the world on fire through “a great cloud of witnesses,” (Heb 12,1) that surrounds us. We need to catch fire, to be purified in God’s love, and to even be at home in the midst of the fiery furnace of his love as were Hananiah, Azariah and Mishael in the Book of Daniel. Catch fire and flame on for your life is meant to be forged in fire by living in God’s love!