Homily for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C 2019
One of the criticisms of President Trump is that his utterances are polarising America. In a way this shows that we all want unity. We seem to want a kind of get-along-with-all society, where there is no conflict, no divisions and no war. We aspire for the perfect society. We go all out to build one. Unfortunately, in doing so, we often put the cart before the horse. We fail to address the divisions within us, between us and God. As a result, we settle for anything but true peace.
We so protect this false peace that we are afraid of anything that will rock the boat, unravel the truth of things, and challenge us to face our demons. We want to be comfortable, to sail peacefully to shore. How we wish all seas were exactly what we wish them to be, untroubled and calm. But the reality is that the seas and the oceans have strong head winds that shake our boat. They cause turbulence that capsizes even the very well-built ships. Such is life! It is our Christian story.
To run away from this reality is to live a falsehood, to live in denial. For life, in a way, is a tale of tensions. There is always a battle to face. St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians 5:17, narrates the battle we face within us. It is the battle where the desires of the flesh are against the desires of the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the desires of the flesh. And he goes on to say, “for these are so opposed to each other that they prevent you from doing what you would.”
This is the sort of division and tension that Christ in the Gospel reading from Luke 12:49-53 said His coming brings. It is the division that comes as a result of our resistance to yield to Him. For when Christ comes, He comes as fire, which in Biblical language means three things. First, it means God’s Presence and Love. Second, it means God’s judgement on sinners. And third, it means Divine Purification. Each of these three asks something of us, to give up our old ways.
They ask us to leave behind our nets of false peace, security, and follow Christ as we journey through the unknown to the Father’s House. But there is tension in the in-between time. We fear to leave behind the familiar and to step into the unknown. We aren’t too sure of what lies ahead, as such, we hang on to what we know. This causes unrest. The sort of unrest an addict experiences, battling between giving up the addiction and at the same time afraid of the aftermath.
Or take the division that arises in a family where the mother struggles with her conscience formed by the Gospel and the reality of her job. She needs the job to pay the bills, and to pay her way through life. But the job asks her to do things that are against what Christ asks of her. So, there is a division within, and there is tension between her and her employer. This is what Christ means when He said, “No, I tell you, but rather division… a household will be divided”.
The Prophet Jeremiah in the First Reading from Jeremiah 38: 4-6, 8-10 faced a similar fate. He was asked by God to tell the Israelites to surrender to the Babylonians. That was a very unpopular message for someone to bear at a time when the Israelites were struggling to protect their national identity and to showcase their military might. Surrender to the enemy! Jeremiah must be out of his mind. But he wasn’t. He was only delivering a message from God.
However, the message he bore didn’t bring “peace” for him nor for the Israelites, as one would have expected God’s message, rather it brought violent reactions that even made the king’s leading men to want Jeremiah dead. Perhaps, Jeremiah could have shied away, and allowed the Israelites to enjoy the pseudo-peace instead of rocking the boat with the revelation of God’s words. But he didn’t. Typical of prophets, he suffered rejection, exile and execution. That wasn’t peace!
“It isn’t also peaceful”, according to Bishop Robert Barron in his homily on the 20th Sunday in ordinary time Year C, for “authentically religious people, authentically spiritual people since they will always be opposed. The logic behind this is simple and unanswerable: we live in a world gone wrong, a world turned upside down; therefore, when someone comes speaking the truth to us, we will think that they are crazy and dangerous”. Meanwhile, we could be the ones off-kilter.
For most of the time we live in denial, not having the courage to face our own demons but blaming others for our own condition and scapegoating those who call us to account for our actions. Jeremiah’s fate is a good example. And so, are many in our times sent by the Father to herald His Gospel. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was right, when God calls us, He doesn’t bid us to come live a comfortable life, but He calls to come and die with Him so that we can also rise with Him.
This is what the Second reading from Hebrews 12:1-4 is on about. “Let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely… looking up to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”But be strengthened.
Be strengthened by the fact that the Father is calling the shots. He is ordering and directing all things according to His plans and purposes. So, bearing the hostilities, the crosses, and the suffering are all part of the plan. Thus, our eyes shouldn’t be fixed on these things, but on Him who is abundantly able to give us true peace if only we can trust Him and follow Him. For He alone knows the true cause of our divisions. And with Him, we can break down the walls dividing us within and without, let our wounds heal and then enjoy true peace.
Fr. Francis Afu