Jesus speaks of his coming “baptism” – that is, his crucifixion – his “distress” refers to his determination to see it through. He also speaks of how he wishes that the fire he came to bring to the earth was already kindled, and warns that it will bring division even among the closest-knit groups. These surprising words from the Prince of Peace reveal to us something important about God’s love: real love takes fortitude – it takes courage, strength and perseverance to desire and act for the good of others and to see those actions through. This is an important correction to the idea, prevalent in our culture, that love is always non-confrontational, yielding and limitlessly accepting (which is much closer to indifference than love.) Real love involves fortitude, to accept that love will always cost, and thus will often be painful, but that this cost is worth it.
This understanding of love helps us in a variety of ways. It helps us to understand the way God deals with us providentially, that he will often allow us to go through difficult trials to sanctify us. It helps us to realise that relationships with those we love (e.g. in our families or at church) cannot always be easy, effortless or free of confrontation, but will often require perseverance, or courage to speak the truth in love. It warns us to guard against things that make us indifferent to others, especially excessive consumption. It encourages us to harness righteous anger to correct injustices big and small. It gives us courage to confront dangerous cultural trends prophetically. It helps us to realise that sharing the Gospel cannot always be painless and non-confrontational. Jesus’ own fortitude as he speaks, his face set towards Jerusalem and the cross, is not just an example to us, but a promise that he will give us a love that is not only well-intentioned, but strong enough to do his will.