20th Sunday in Ordinary Time. August 18th 2013
Jer 38:4-6,8-10; Heb 12:1-4; Lk 12:49-53
The peace that comes in and through divisions
Jesus shocks us in today’s Gospel by telling us that He has come to “set the earth on fire” and to establish not peace, but rather division, beginning with division within the family. Isn’t Jesus Christ the Prince of Peace who brings to our world the love of God? Why then is He describing His mission with statements like “setting the world on fire” and bringing division even among close family members?
In St. Mathew’s version of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells the crowd not to fast, pray, or give alms “so that others will see them.” If they do these things to win the admiration and esteem of others, then they have received their rewards from their admirers and cannot expect to receive additional reward from God. In praying, they are not to stand and pray in the synagogue so that others will see them but they must go to their rooms and shut the door and pray to the father in secret. In giving alms they are not to blow trumpets in the market place to win the esteem of others but they should not let the left hand know what the right is doing. In fasting, they are not to look gloomy and unkept so that others will know that they are fasting but they are to wash their face and anoint their head. Jesus calls them to do these good things in secret so that “the Father who sees in secret will repay them” because God rewards only what is done out of love for Him. Doing the good thing is necessary but the motive alone is what determines whether we will receive our reward from God or not. God only rewards the good that is done out of love for Him and not the good that is done to win the praise and esteem of others.
That is why Jesus speaks of both fire and division as His mission in this world. By the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus sets our hearts on fire with Christian charity that is rooted in communion with God. Divisions surely arise because this divine love demands an absolute response from those who receive it wholeheartedly. Divisions arise from the conflict in interests between God and others, compelling us to ask ourselves sincerely, “Is it all about me and the esteem of others or is it about the Lord Jesus Christ?” Such times of division become moments to evaluate the motive for the good that we do as Christ’s disciples. When we face opposition in seeking to follow Jesus Christ, we are forced to clarify the motives for the good that we do. We then either choose to do the good for the love of God and receive reward from Him or to compromise so as to win the praise and esteem of men and then settle for a purely human reward.
The opposition or division is more painful when it comes from loved ones like family members. I recently met a young lady who was an aspirant in a religious community. When I offered to pray for her in her vocation, she replied with a worried face, “Thanks. Please pray for my mother too.” I asked what intention she wanted me to pray for her mother. She reluctantly replied, “Pray that she has a change of heart. My mother is very angry with me and even hates me because I chose to become a religious sister.” I understood and promised to pray for her. She is making a choice to pursue what she knows is the will of God for her even in the midst of opposition from her beloved mother. Her motives for pursuing the vocation to religious life are being purified and directed more to love for God than anything else. Christ establishes such divisions so that we do the good out of love for Him and not to win the esteem and praise of others, not even close family members. It is only this good done out of love for Him that Jesus rewards with His peace. Christ’s peace comes not from avoiding conflict or opposition, but in being willing to do the good out of love for God even in the midst of divisions.
The first reading shows us the Prophet Jeremiah who lived at a time that the Israelites in Judah were being besieged by the Babylonians. Instead of repenting from their sinful ways, they began to boast that the city of Jerusalem could not be conquered because they had the Jerusalem Temple and they were the chosen ones of God. The Prophet Jeremiah was opposed and disliked because he warned them to repent and not trust in the Temple building. To silence the prophet, they cooked up a false story and had him thrown into the muddy well. The prophet faced division and chose to speak the truth even it this will lead to his being opposed by his fellow nationals. God rewards this by changing the heart of King Hezekiah towards the prophet and having him taken out of the cistern before he died.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we have the love of God poured into our souls by the Holy Spirit. Jesus longs to see the entire earth set ablaze with this fire through us. For this fire to spread, we must be willing to face divisions, even from loved ones and still choose to do the good out of love for Christ. If this division begins with the family, the most intimate unit of society, then imagine how intense and constant this division is in the world? Time of division is time to clarify our motive for following Christ and doing the will of God. It is a time that compels us to examine if we are willing to do the will of God even when others try to pull us down or to find faults with our good intentions. As Catholics, we cannot be genuine committed disciples and hope that everyone will approve of us and praise us. We receive the love of God in us and we wonder why we are hated as Catholics, why we are despised and mocked? The fire and the opposition go together. Jesus even warned us, “What is of human esteem is abominable in the sight of God.” We will experience Jesus’ deep and abiding peace not because we have avoided conflict and opposition from the sinful world; but Jesus will reward us with His peace when even in the face of opposition, we choose to do the will of God out of love for Him.
The letter to the Hebrews in the Second Reading directs us to learn from Jesus Himself who “suffered great opposition even from sinners.” Jesus faced opposition throughout His earthly life. At His Presentation in the temple, the aged Simeon said to Mary, “Behold this child is destined for the rise and fall of many in Israel and for a sign that will be opposed.” Mary thus became the very first woman to receive the fire of divine love and also the call to share in the opposition that Christ would experience. She did not shy away, but “pondered all these things in her heart” and willingly shared in the divisions and oppositions that Christ suffered throughout His life. Herod tried to kill the infant Savior even before He spoke His first words. The Pharisees and scribes opposed Him after they heard His powerful words and saw His amazing miracles. Jesus’ own people wanted to throw Him over the cliff once when He visited home because His words were too powerful for them to accept. But in all these, Jesus chose to do the good that the Father willed for Him out of pure love for the Father and not to gain human esteem or praise, even if they were to come from close family and friends. Jesus “embraced the Cross and despised its shame” because He knew that the Father will surely reward only what was done out of love for Him. The Father rewards Him by raising Him from the dead and making Him sovereign King of all creation.
This same letter to the Hebrews reminds us that we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses who resisted “to the point of shedding blood.” The saints and angels, with the Mother of God are cheering us to victory and to “persevere in running the race that lies before us,” no matter the opposition and divisions that we face. Jesus Christ, “the leader and perfecter of our faith” is the one who unites us to Himself in this Eucharist so that His own fidelity to the Father even in the face of opposition becomes our own fidelity. He will never allow our faith to become a tool to gain praise and esteem of others but a way of doing the good out of love for Him. He brings to us in this Holy Communion both the fire of divine love and division from loved ones. Filled with the fire of divine love, if we choose to do the good out of love for Him alone in the times of division, we shall then know His deep and abiding peace because God rewards only the good that is done out of love for Him.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!