|by Angela Lambert|
August 14th, 2016; 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Gospel Luke 12:49-53 NAB
Jesus said to his disciples: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”
Imagine someone else saying the same words as Jesus does in this Gospel passage. We would probably accuse them of not being very Christian! Isn’t Jesus the Prince of Peace? Isn’t He the nicest guy there ever was? Aren’t Christians supposed to be nice people?
God promised Noah that He would never destroy the earth by flood again…He said nothing about fire. Jesus exclaims with great passion His eagerness to set the world ablaze. This doesn’t seem to fit the sandal-wearing, nice, historical moral teacher image our culture likes to portray Jesus as.
Jesus connects this mission to His own baptism, one that causes Him great “anguish until it is accomplished.” Fire purifies and destroys. Christ came to set fire to sin, to destroy its corrupting influence in our lives, and to make room for life in God. Fire however is painful and detoxing from anything (even something as simple as caffeine or sugar!) hurts for awhile. Nevertheless, at the end of the purification process one feels liberated and empowered. To ignite this fire and make our purification possible, Christ knew He had to suffer and die first – something that caused Him distress as He waited in anticipation.
As disciples of Christ, we share in both His rewards and His suffering. Christ’s words about causing division seem shocking. Isn’t He supposed to bring unity and harmony? Jesus offers unity, but not everyone accepts it. Note that although Jesus often ate with sinners, not every sinner chose to eat with Him and several found His witness challenging enough that they tried to silence Him altogether by crucifying Him.
I often quote G.K. Chesterton who said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It’s been found difficult; and left untried.” At the fork in the road therefore, where one must choose the path of discipleship or the path of least resistance, Christians must resolve and accept that as they walk to the left after Christ, some of their closest companions may walk to the right instead and their paths will separate. Although Christians, like Christ, ought to keep the door open to those friendships, oftentimes living our faith can mean losing some relationships. Jesus is Goodness, Truth, and Love. Yet, He was rejected by many. As we strive to be more Christ-like, we have to prepare ourselves for the same experience.
Even in the Old Testament, authentic prophets consistently experienced rejection and suffering. The community they came to help change would pressure them to conform instead. When God’s prophets refused, they found themselves exiled or running from death threats. The first reading for this Sunday’s liturgy provides an evocative image of this from the life of Jeremiah:
|“And so they took Jeremiah and threw him into the cistern of Prince Malchiah…There was no water in the cistern, only mud, and Jeremiah sank into the mud.” Jeremiah 38:6|
This image strikes me because of the several analogous experiences I can think of in my own life. Jeremiah acts in truth and love only to be thrown into a pit. The mud makes the image even better as a symbol of the depressive reality of ones you love rejecting Christ (and you) in favor of persisting in their sins. When Jeremiah “sank into the mud,” I am reminded of the feeling of helplessness and despair that can discourage me in these moments. Thankfully, Jeremiah did not remain in the mud forever, Jesus’ death was followed by His resurrection, and God will lift us up too. David expresses this in Psalm 40:2
|“The LORD heard my cry. He drew me out of the pit of destruction, out of the mud of the swamp; he set my feet upon a crag; he made firm my steps.”|
Walking the path of discipleship may take you down a different road than some of the persons you love. You might experience the pain of division and loss, not because you didn’t invite them along but because they refuse to come with you. This fork in the road can come in many different forms at different times in our lives. I remember losing a childhood friendship in high school because she chose the path of underage drinking and I did not. I didn’t stop being friends with her, but she stopped being friends with me. As an adult I have experienced similar crossroads in other relationships as well. Choosing between following Christ and following someone we love is as painful as fire. Our contemporary culture adds even more pressure. It seems more rare these days to find people who can be friends even though they have different views and beliefs. Instead, the attitude appears to be that one must condone the decisions of another or they can’t be friends.
To give a counter-example, I have the greatest respect and love for a college friend of mine who made a decision and developed a conviction contrary to my own convictions based on our shared Catholic faith. She asked me point blank if I no longer wanted to be friends with her as a result and insisted I be candid about how I viewed her and her choice. We have a long, deep, loving friendship and to be honest with me, knowing it might mean I would part ways, took guts. I have the greatest respect and admiration for her that she was mature enough to continue being friends with me even though we had different views on a serious topic.
Discipleship may be difficult but in the end Christ conquers all. Every person must make a choice and, praise be to Christ, He provides us with the grace and the guts we will need to follow Him no matter the cost.
Have you had a similar experience? If you’d be willing to share, write a short account of your fork in the road in the comment section below!
- How has Christ set your heart on fire?
- How has He purified it?
- How has that purification made you more zealous and joyful?
- Has living out your Christian faith ever caused you to experience persecution from persons you care about?
- In what ways did it feel like you were sinking into a pit of mud?
- In what ways did God lift you up from the pit and set you on rock?
- Who are your true friends who accept you as you are, complete with respect for your beliefs?
- Have you ever been the one doing the persecuting or rejecting? Consider why we find it difficult to be around people who challenge us to be better simply by the way they are living their own lives.
- Are there persons with whom you struggle to be an authentic Christian around? Do you live your faith at work or out with friends, or do you hide it so they won’t think differently about you?
Make a Resolution (Practical Application):
- Pray Psalm 40 each day this week.
- Resolve to let your faith be seen in some small way, especially in a place where you usually lack the courage. (e.g. wearing a cross necklace, having a small crucifix or rosary on your desk, writing favorite bible verses on notecards and placing them in places you will see – whether in your work space or at home, walking away from conversations that disparage the faith or other persons, etc.)
~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016
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