20th Ordinary Sunday (Year C)
First Reading: Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10 Second Reading: Hebrews 12:1-4 Gospel Reading: Luke 12:49-53
“KEEPING OUR EYES FIXED ON HIM.”
A Hindu came to England for his education. He was already married. At Oxford he became interested in the Christian religion, was converted and baptized. He was a young prince, and his first duty on his return to his native land was to tell his father of his new faith. The rage and grief of the parents were great. He was turned out of the house into a cow-shed, and there left, hungry and sad. His mother brought him a dish of the favorite curry he had often longed for amid the strange meals of foreign lands, but before he might eat she had a condition - “Say, I am not a Christian.” He refused and the plate was taken away.
Hungrier and thirstier he grew, and at length, hearing a scratching outside, he found a low-caste man, a sweeper (whom in the olden days, to touch was defilement) offering him water. Now, in spite of his ingrained repugnance, he was thankful to receive it.
The next morning he heard sounds of mourning – it had been given out that he was dead, drowned in the courtyard well – therefore his girl wife was widowed. From the cow-shed he could see her being led across the courtyard in her bright clothes and jewels, then she was thrown down, and they were torn from her, and the rest of the cruel treatment that a Hindu widow receives was dealt out to her; while the boy husband watched, powerless to help.
That night, with the help of the friendly sweeper, he escaped to a mission station near by; later the poor little 'widow' was also discovered, and was brought to Christianity, and the husband and wife were reunited in Christian marriage.
This is what Jesus says in today's Gospel Reading from St. Luke - “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on earth? No, I tell you , but rather division. … a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, … a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” Christ comes to us as a challenge. Everyone who follows Christ and keeps his eyes focused on Jesus and the truth of his message in all its integrity, everyone who lives it to the full, will find the world opposes him. Christ himself suffered, as did all the prophets, and we must follow in his footsteps.
Today is the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time. The Scripture Readings of today invite us to consider the struggle and difficulty inherent in being a Christian. The path of following Christ is one of contradiction and difficulty in every time and place, and if we aren´t living with that tension, it is perhaps because we are living without complete authenticity as a follower of Christ. Following Christ should cost us all something dear.
“JEREMIAH OUGHT TO BE PUT TO DEATH...”
The First Reading of today from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah gives a glimpse of his sufferings in the days before Jerusalem was conquered by the Babylonians. It takes great courage to tell people the truth about themselves when they do not want to hear it. The prophet Jeremiah’s mission to preach repentance to the Israelites often brought him into direct conflict with the powerful elite of his day.
God had given Jeremiah a message for the king that was sadly disregarded. At a time when Judah was a subject state of the much more powerful Babylon, the weak King Zedekiah was convinced by various leaders of the people to form an alliance with Babylon’s enemies and offer armed resistance. Jeremiah strenuously objected and predicted doom if the King did not change his plans. He warned that they would be defeated by the Babylonians and that Jerusalem would be destroyed. The prophet insisted that instead of revolt, repentance of their sinful ways was the only way out of their difficulties. Seeing how his preaching was demoralizing the army, the princes accused Jeremiah of treason and convinced the King to give him over into their hands. Today’s reading describes his fate: First, he was lowered into a cistern and left to die. And then, at the hand of a foreigner who interceded on his behalf with the King, Jeremiah was finally rescued. God never abandons His people.
PARADOXICAL PRONOUNCEMENTS OF JESUS:
In the Gospel Reading of today, St. Luke continues his travel narrative, in which he has Jesus instructing his followers on what they should expect of him as his disciples. No doubt St. Luke knows that his readers would be startled by the three important pronouncements Jesus makes in today's reading. At first, we may find these pronouncements difficult to reconcile with the other statements made about and by Jesus. But the very words Luke quotes invite us to understand the paradoxical truth of what he is saying.
As a matter of fact, this Sunday’s Gospel Reading shows us another image of Jesus. This is not the face of a sweet, gentle Jesus. This is the fiery, passionate, and crusading Christ. This is the Anointed One who takes up the struggle for justice. This is the prophet who speaks the word of God even when it hurts. This is the rabbi who stands uncompromisingly for the truth. He spoke the truth and he paid the price.
a) "I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were blazing!"
In Jewish thought fire is almost always the symbol of God's judgment on people who either lived by His word or not. Just as fire separates the dross from the gold, keeping the word of God separates good people from bad. So then, Jesus regarded the coming of his kingdom as a time of judgment. The Jews firmly believed that God would judge other nations by one standard and themselves by another; that the very fact that they were the chosen people of God would be enough to absolve them. However much we may wish to eliminate the element of judgment from the message of Jesus it remains stubbornly and unalterably there.
b) "There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!"
This does not mean that Jesus is to be re-baptized in the Jordan. The word baptism implies total immersion. That is the way in which Jesus uses it here. The cross was constantly before his eyes. So, we link this to the ordeal that awaited him in Jerusalem, as a 'baptism,' where he would be immersed in his suffering and death on the way to resurrection. Jesus does not look forward to his 'baptism' for the pain it brings but for the salutary effects it produces for all of us.
This way Jesus reveals his desire to give his life for us and describes it as a 'baptism,' for he will rise victorious over sin and death and will never die again. In our baptism, we too are submerged into his death and by it we die to sin and are reborn to a life of grace. Jesus wants his burning love to catch in us so we have the same passion and zeal for the Gospel and for the will of God that he did. He wants his message to reach all men and we are his messengers.
c) "Do you think that I have come to establish peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division."
This is a very puzzling, even alarming, statement, for it seems to contradict the whole message of the Gospel. When Jesus said he has not come to bring peace, he is referring to the peace that was in vogue then in his time; the peace that was the product of war and compromise; where injustice and oppression prevailed. As a matter of fact, Jesus is not opposed to peace. Instead, he is the prince of peace; he came to establish peace that comes from forgiveness. This is the kind he wished his disciples when he told them, “Peace I leave you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.”
On the other hand, when he said that he had come to bring division, he was talking about the division that his message would bring between those who accept it and those who reject it; between the righteous and unrighteous. There is perpetual conflict, a state of war, between these two groups as one group strives to raise the world up to God and the other to pull it down to hell. These two groups do not live in two different parts of the world; they live side by side in the same neighborhood; they live together under the same roof; and in fact the forces of good and evil often exist together in the same person. By this Jesus indicates that his message would divide families between those who would accept the message and those who would reject it. It is painful to hear the Gospel speak of families being broken up because of Jesus.
JESUS OUR MODEL AS WE RUN THE RACE OF LIFE:
In the Second Reading of today from the Letter to the Hebrews, the author reminds the early Christians, and us, of what an authentic Christian life consists, and that even Jesus had to endure opposition and suffering to be faithful to the will of his heavenly Father. We have to live by God's word. Therefore he tells us, “Let us persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.” Then he adds, “For the sake of the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God.” With these words, St. Paul is asking us to make Jesus our model as we run the race of life. When we run the race of faith, we do not face the hurdles alone. Jesus is there to cheer us on. He endured the cross and its shame in view of the “joy that lay before him.” We should ours, too. He received the glory of his triumph by his obedience to the will of his Father. We would, too, if we live by God's word.
God never abandons his people. He will not abandon us if we fight the war against evil in ourselves and in the world. With this thought, the author of Hebrews encourages us not to grow weary or lose heart. Let us then make our choice for Jesus and reaffirm it daily in thought, word and deed. Then the “joy that lay before him” will be ours.
In the Gospel, Jesus speaks of the division and struggle that will come as a result of his preaching and mission, and the difficulties his followers will have to face. Jesus wants his followers to know the truth. He tells us that, if we truly want to live as his disciples, sometimes we will experience trouble and division. We cannot experience the peace of Christ until we turn away from sin and let God reign in our lives. Sometimes when people chose to do God's will, those they love turn against them. This can happen when people do not fully understand or accept the message of Jesus. This conflict with loved ones is what Jesus speaks of today. Remember that Jesus himself had to suffer rejection from his own.
Today, Jesus is asking us to make our choice: For or against him. There is no in-between, “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.” And our choice will have eternal repercussions - Live according to his word and we will be assured of eternal life or go against his word and we will suffer the eternal fires of hell. And his word will be our judge, “There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day.”
Finally, every Christian needs to recommit himself to the path of following Christ, "keeping our eyes fixed on him," since he is "the Way, the Truth, and the Life." There is no salvation in any other name. Jesus teaches the full truth about God and about man, and though at times it is hard for us to accept, we must pray for the grace to grasp his truth and for the courage to hold on to it no matter what. And this is the Good News of today.