The Cleansing Fire
The first message of this Sunday's Gospel was memorably inverted by George Bush II in his attack on the "Axis of Evil," when he announced to the world that 'whoever is not for us, is against us.' As a learned colleague has pointed out to me, this is the tenor of Mt 12.30 and Lk 11.23, but I prefer the Marcan (and hence older) account here, where Jesus says that 'whoever is not against us, is for us.'
Jesus' call here is for charity, not enmity: charity towards all those who work in His name, even when they are aberrant in their beliefs and schismatic from the one Church He founded. Our prayer for Christian unity must be grounded in love, not contempt, however difficult we might find it (and I am by no means exempt!).
Jesus' subsequent threats of Hell are harder to take. He tells us to sever those parts of us that drag us into the Pit. As always, we have to take such threats alongside God's will and Jesus' promise that, in St Paul's words, all things will one day be completed in Christ. Jesus died for the salvation of all Creation. Who are we to say that God's will shall not be done?
Nonetheless, the only absolute guarantee of salvation remains baptism into the Church of Christ, washing the dirt of sin away from the shining Image of God in which we were all made; and then, immersion in the pattern of repentance, and reception of Christ in the Eucharist, so that we can be constantly reconformed to that primal Image, polishing away the grime of sin. The call to purge ourselves of the sin which mars that Image and distances us from God remains urgent, even for those of us who rest secure in the victory of Christ's self-sacrifice.
I am afraid that all of us have parts of ourselves which need to be purged by the flames. With discipline, we can make the searing heat a pleasant tickle, or even a warming glow, something we welcome because it is purifying us and bringing us closer to the cool refreshment of God's light. The Church gives us both the cool light and the hot: the searing pain of Confession, which empties our selves of sin, and the healing balm of the Eucharist, where Christ refills those empty selves with His divine, self-sacrifical love. That love, living in us, the Church, is the gift by which the whole world must be saved, all things brought back into unity with their Creator.