20th Sunday in Ordinary Time. August 18, 2019.
Jer 38:4-6,8-10; Heb 12:1-4; Lk 12:49-53
The fire of Christ and the divisions in our world
We are no strangers to divisions, people divided from us or from each other in our families, workplaces, communities, and Church. We witness more fighting and quarreling among our relatives and acquaintances than we would like to deal with.
We fall into two extremes in response to these divisions. We can easily focus on these divisions and try to solve them all with little or no success. We get frustrated by our inability to reconcile the warring parties and we sometimes even begin to blame ourselves for these divisions and our failure to resolve them. On the other hand, we simply ignore it all and just settle to live divided from others and to allow others to do the same. We may even fuel the divides by our words, actions, and inaction.
What are we to do in the face of divisions that appear irremediable? We must begin to see in those moments of unresolvable conflicts God inviting us to be Christ in our divided world and to make present in this world what Christ Himself made present and to do so the very same way that Jesus did.
Jesus Christ came into a divided world and He had one wish for this world, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were blazing already.” This statement shows us Christ’s response to divisions.
First of all, it means that Jesus did not come into this world to immediately take away all divisions between us. He adds, “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” His disciples were divided when they were competing about who was the greatest among them and who would sit at Jesus’ left and right, “And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John.”(Mk 10:41) To the estranged brother who asked Jesus to negotiate with his own brother about getting his own share of the inheritance, Jesus answered, “Friend, who made me an arbitrator and judge between you?”(Lk 12:14) So Jesus did not solve all the divisions that He Himself faced during His earthly life.
Secondly, it means that Jesus’ immediate desire is that His own fire spread in this divided world through us. We are to make Christ present in our divided world and bring into this world what Christ brought into this world in His own earthly life while reflecting Christ’s own attitude towards conflicts and divisions.
What is this fire of Jesus that He brought immediately into the world and that He longs to spread in our divided world through us? We must first remember that Jesus is the sinless One who came into a world divided by sin. Sin in the human heart is what divides us and destroys the harmony in our relationships. In as much as these divisions begin in the human heart, the fire of Christ must begin also in our own hearts and flow out into our divided world.
This fire that Christ brings immediately into the world has five essential components. Firstly, it is a fire of merciful love that forgives all sins and brings inner peace for those who who humbly accept it. Secondly, it is a fire of saving truth that sets us free and constantly challenges us to grow into the image of Christ. Thirdly, it is a fire of divine grace that transforms us into God’s children and moves us to live accordingly. Fourthly, it is a fire of good example to others that encourages them to live the gospel to the fullest by the grace of God and thus to live in joyful harmony with God and with others. Fifthly, it is a fire of hope that faces darkness of human division with a courageous heart that refuses to give up.
This is the fire of Christ that alone conquers divisions and makes us one. This is the only thing that can fulfill the wish of Jesus for our unity in His prayer to the Father at the Last Supper, “May they be one as we are one, I in them and you in me.”(Jn 17:21) We must let our hearts be completely consumed by the elements of this divine fire and then bring them into our world no matter the cost or the results.
The letter to the Hebrews gives us a hint about how to be enflamed by this fire and make it present in our world today. First, we are to “get rid of all burden of sin that clings to us.” We begin our struggle with divisions in our world by fighting sin in ourselves first, striving to be one with Christ and with others first. How can we fight divisions in the world while we too are ignoring our inner division brought about by sin? We must allow this divine love to consume us first and set us on fire with divine love.
Then, we are to “keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” We focus on Christ and not on the divisions or on our own inability to overcome these divisions. By focusing on Christ with love and faith in those moments, we receive that which is in Christ, participating in His own grace and attitude. This in turn allows us to be and act like Christ in the face of all opposition that we face personally and among our loved ones. This Christ-like approach opens us to the peace of Christ so that we bring into this world what Christ brought into the world and not our own baggage, agendas, biases, and resentments that only worsen the divide.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, our world is divided today and it is further dividing every day. There will always be divisions in this world. We must not be afraid of them and we must also not be naïve and think that we can on our own resolve all these conflicts and tensions. Jesus Christ did not take away all the divisions in this life and neither can we. People will hate us and others and sometimes there is nothing that we can do to change that. Even Jesus warned us, “Woe to you when all speak well of you.”(Lk 6:26) Again He said, “All will hate you because of my name.”(Lk 21:17) We can avoid all naivety in dealing with divisions by remembering that this world is not heaven, the place of perfect and uninterrupted harmony, but a place of conflict and trial, a place in which we are called to make present what Jesus made present in His own time and to have His peace flow through our hearts by doing so.
Let us ask ourselves the right question: what am I bringing into this divided world today? Am I busy taking sides in the divisions that I face? Am I playing the blaming game, judging others and telling who is right and who is wrong? Am I just going to ignore all the divisions and pretend we are one happy family who would in time love each other perfectly from the heart? Are we pacifists who would sacrifice all things, beginning with the uncomfortable truth, for the sake of a false peace?
Or are we going to be Christ in our world today and let the fire of Christ pass through our hearts to the world and share in Christ’s own attitude towards division? Are we going to be living conduits in our world today of Christ’s merciful love and not our biases and resentments, His transforming grace and not our agendas, His example and not our easy compromises, His saving truths and not our empty opinions, and His unfailing hope and not our discouragement and frustrations? Are we ready to do these and pay the price for doing so? Our failure or reluctance to receive and spread this fire of Christ condemns our world to endless and insurmountable divisions.
Jesus Christ longed for our unity, prayed for it, and suffered and died for it. Yet He was not accepted but only rejected and mocked on the cross. Many chose to still remain estranged from Him despite the great love that He showed us on the cross. He died on the cross and rose, not to immediately take away all divisions between us, but that His fire may be in us and that we would let this fire spread and set this divided world ablaze and bring to this world that supernatural unity found in the Triune God alone.
We have this fire in us through this Eucharist today. Let this fire consume us and spread through us no matter the cost so that we can begin to fulfill Christ’s wish for unity in this divided world. This is the only way that we can know and spread the deep peace of Christ even in our divided world.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!