Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Fr. Pete Iorio
August 13, 2022 - 5:00 PM
August 14, 2022 - 8:30 AM
Friends, this is a very difficult gospel passage. And what Jesus says seems to contradict his words and actions in other places. These words of Jesus only appear in the gospel of Luke. Let us come to understand at least something about its message and implications. You can feel Jesus’ passion and zeal. Jesus is guided by the HS, burning for the mission to establish the Reign of love and justice. The fire is consuming him and his cry is one of anguish.
These Gospel words of Jesus connect us to the first reading from the prophet Jeremiah. Before he was thrown into the cistern which we hear about today, he had said,“ I felt something like a burning fire in my bones, and I tried to put it out but could not…” It seems like the fire is out of his control and it is not his will to be compelled in such a way. The fire comes from God and Jeremiah was compelled to undertake this mission from God. He accepted it as difficult as it was.
Jeremiah had to challenge the king for his wickedness and for trusting in his own military power rather than in God’s power. He foretold that Israel would be overcome by Babylon and kept in captivity for 70 years. For saying that, Jeremiah caused division…was attacked by his own brothers, beaten and put into the stocks by a priest, imprisoned by the king, threatened with death, thrown into a cistern by Judah's officials, and opposed by a false prophet. The people disowned him.
So Jesus is speaking prophetic language as he talks about fire and division. It is particular to Jesus and his mission. It is not a prescription for our mission to follow in his footsteps. Some Christians have been able to excuse a lack of charity, a lack of respect, along with bitterness, and hatred by giving the reason of prophecy. They have claimed that the divisions we cause are the divisions to which Jesus is referring when he said he is bringing fire to the earth.
The fire that Jesus passionately longs to bring to this earth is not the fire of division and polarization, but the fire of the Holy Spirit, the fire of Pentecost, which has fruits of charity, joy, peace, goodness, understanding, and forgiveness. And this fire unites rather than divides. In answer to his question: “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on earth?” the answer I believe is: absolutely, without doubt. Jesus came precisely to bring peace to this earth, as the angels proclaim at his birth, as his entire ministry attests to, and as he powerfully witnessed to in his death. Jesus came to bring peace to the world. One sentence does not negate that.
If the fire that Jesus brings to this earth is meant to unite us, why does it so often divide us?
It is not Jesus’ message that divides; it is how we react to that message that divides. We see this already at the time of his birth. Jesus is born, and some react with understanding and joy, while others react with misunderstanding and hatred and a desire to do away with him. That dynamic has continued down through the centuries to this very day when Jesus is not only misunderstood and seen as a threat by many, but especially when his person and message are used to justify bitter and hate-filled divisions among Christians and to justify the bitterness that invariably characterizes our public debates on religious and moral issues. Jesus still divides, not because his person and message are one-sided, divisive, or hate-filled, but because we too often use them in that way.
In effect, we have used Jesus to rationalize our own anger and fears. The effects of this are seen everywhere: from the bitter polarization within our political sphere, to the bitter misunderstandings between churches, to the hate-filled rhetoric in the media, to those who demonize everyone who does not agree with them, to the judgmental way we talk about each other inside our circles of influence.
Jesus and his message of radical love always challenge people. They do not fit into binary categories that are so prevalent in our society. Jesus was a real prophet who embodied the passionate love of God for all humanity and for justice among all.