In our Gospel today, Jesus apparently says a couple things which don't appear to be Christ-like. First we hear him say that he came to set fire to the earth and then in contrast to what he said every-time he entered the room after his resurrection, he said he didn't come to bring peace to the earth. Somehow both of these statements seem out of character from Jesus' message of love. We know that Jesus wasn't a pyromaniac nor was he a proponent of war. So let's look at both of these words individually in an effort to better understand Jesus' message.
I fire always bad? We know it burns and destroys as we see in forest fires. That's true but even there it produces life. If you look at the two pinecones you have been given, the little green one is what pine cones look like as they are growing on the trees. The larger brown ones are what pinecones look like at the end of the season when they fall from the tree. Look closely and you see that it is open and all the seeds are gone. Those little seeds are the beginning of life of a little pine tree. When a forest fire happens the pinecones are not destroyed but the heat causes the cone to open, release the seeds prematurely and are ready to produce new life, a little pine tree. You might call that a part of God's reforesting activity. We as well know that fire/heat is required to purify gold and other precious metals by removing the impurities from the pure gold. Another fact is that an ancient belief is that fire is a manifestation of God and that belief is fostered by the 3rd person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit was seen at Pentecost as tongues of fire coming upon the disciples providing them with the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit, Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Strength, Knowledge, Piety and Wonder and Awe of the Lord, which each one of us receives at the Sacrament of Confirmation. So Jesus' message was and is let God into your lives and let God set your hearts on fire producing new life and renewed spirit like pure gold.
Now looking at Jesus' saying that he did not come "to bring peace to earth". Is that bad? Jesus isn't promoting war but he doesn't want us to be wimps but we must stand up for our beliefs as Jeremiah did in our first reading when he told King Zedekiah to surrender to the Babylonians in order to save Israel. That didn't result his death but it didn't produce peace either. We know that the Jewish people were in exile in Babylon for an extended period but they survived as a people in Babylon and eventually returned to Israel and prospered. So they had to step back for a while in order to gain peace in the long run.
Jesus and his disciples stood up for what they knew to be correct and that didn't produce peace but rather upset a few people and in the long run cost them their lives. Initially they were thrown out of the Temple and started a new Church because the main line Jewish people were unwilling to change and accept Jesus as the messiah and refine their beliefs, throwing out the dross, the unnecessary portions of their ridge religious beliefs, a parallel to refining gold and leaving gold to the Christians. The refinement, the lack of peace continued from the beginning as evidenced by the many controversies like that between St. Peter and St. Paul where Paul didn't believe it was necessary to follow many of the Jewish rituals like circumcision. You didn't need to be a good Jew to be a good Christian. That refinement continued and continues today as evidenced by the many alternative Catholic Churches of which we are one. In fact, last Tuesday we celebrated the feast of St Hippolytus who disagreed vigorously with four consecutive sainted popes over theological issues and pastoral practice. Out of that lack of peace the definition of the Holy Trinity as three distinct persons was refined.
So the messages of today's Gospel are that Jesus calls us to be on fire with the love of Jesus because it brings the freshness of new life and the peace which Jesus calls us to is not one of complacency with where we are spiritually but one dissatisfaction with where we are and a strong desire to know Jesus better and a willingness to spread Jesus' message better and further than we ever have by lives overall, our words and actions in all that we do.