• Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10 • Hebrews 12:1-4 • Luke 12:49-53 • 20 Ordinary C ‘13 •
Scripture Readings: Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Print PDF: Weekly Homily 08.18.2013
This has been another summer when fires in Washington, Idaho and western Montana poured smoke into our valley. The smoke is a nuisance for us. Those close to the intense heat and explosive force of fire know how threatening fire is. Four weeks ago — on July 19, I had a fire in my condominium. At least momentarily that experience was frightening, surely enough to ruin a good day. While relatively small, its consequences have consumed lots of my time, energy and money. Fortunately I was not injured and the damage was limited. Kitchen cabinets were removed for repair, some new paint applied and soon I will have a new stove and microwave.
Jesus of Nazareth was an amazing person. A prophetic fire burned in him. He was a devout Jew but not determined to maintain the status quo of family, society or religious practice. He recognized that many are burdened by violence, disease, difficult relationships and natural disasters. His message about “the kingdom of God” was complex and even provocative. He called for a profound change in society. “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! As he traveled around Galilee and into Jerusalem, he was trying to ignite a fire in the hearts of his peers similar to the fire burning in his soul – the fire of love. He was calling his peers to move beyond the sort of rigid and shallow life that is less than life.
His message was so radical that he expected it to have dramatic effects as if the earth had been set on fire. That is why his first companions considered him a prophet. Prophets remind us there are things more important than simply maintaining the advantages enjoyed in present arrangements.
Today many prophetic voices warn of the dangers of climate change and call us to adjust our energy consumption to avoid future calamity. No matter how sensible their message, prophets are rejected. Most folks consider it much easier to go along with the status quo.
The message of Jesus attracted some and provoked violent resistance in others. Just as today some then were lethargic and passive. This must have frustrated him. His words reveal an intense conflict in his soul. “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” He realized and acknowledges that rather than igniting a fire in their hearts, his message was dividing households and families, even his own. No wonder he laments, “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!”
Jesus did not establish a “church” as we know it. His passion for “the reign of God” was about igniting and spreading the “fire of love” that would transform society. His first companions kept his passion alive. They knew people are more important than laws and relationships more important than institutions. They worked courageously with others for a better world.
They and all since who embrace the way of Jesus have never justified the way things are. A fire burned within them leading them to search for a more just society and real peace rooted in love.
In the centuries since, “Christianity” evolved and became the institutional church we know today. The fire ignited by Jesus was contained and the status quo maintained at all costs. However that fire ignited by Jesus has not been extinguished. It continues to burn in the hearts of millions today – people like us working for a better world in which the sort of rigid and shallow life that is not life is replaced by a full, human life that is available to all.
I was fortunate. I was able to extinguish the fire in my condo and the damage was limited. We do not want and will not allow the fire ignited by Jesus of Nazareth to be extinguished. That is at the root of the tension we experience in our Catholic household of faith today. Our task in this 21st century is to fan the flames of the Christ fire so it burns more strongly in our world. By doing so we enable the presence of the Risen Christ to continue evolving among us. In Christ a more just society and real peace rooted in love will emerge in our world.