20th Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 14 August 2011 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I: Jeremiah 38: 4-6, 8-10; Responsorial: Psalm 40; II: Hebrews 12: 1-4; Gospel: Luke 12: 49 – 53
The Liturgy of the Word for Mass this Sunday brings us Scriptures that could be seen as difficult. It is especially in our Gospel reading these difficulties are most evident. “Jesus said to his disciples: “I have come to set the earth on fire…how I wish it were already blazing! … Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.’ ” Christ then continues to say how this will divide families and relationships in terms that are very clear.
The first reading tells us of how the prophet Jeremiah was cast into an empty, muddy cistern to die. This was because he had dared to obey God and proclaim the truth of the harsh realities facing Jerusalem resulting from their sin and rebellion against the Lord.
The second reading from the book of Hebrews is both encouraging and challenging as we are reminded that our lives are being witnessed by the faithful, the communion of saints who have crossed the threshold of eternity and seek to help and encourage our life for God.
As we read these powerful Scriptures we may struggle with a seeming conflict. Jesus calls us to abide in Him, His love, and His peace. Scripture shares many promises that if we just pray and believe God will bless and care for all our needs. Even the refrain from our responsorial psalm echoes this grace as it speaks: “Lord, come to my aid!” What is going on? The prophet Jeremiah was faithful and obedient to the call of God for his life and he was dumped into a muddy cistern. Jesus is saying He wants to bring fire into our lives and split homes and hearts. What is going on?
To best understand these Bible truths we need, as always heed the context. The Gospel of Luke has been sharing the life, ministry, and message of Jesus. And the tone of the Good News (Gospel) has been intensifying. Read the chapters of Luke leading to this segment. The holy and loving passion of God, the promised fire, and the power of the Holy Spirit is increasing in the words and actions of Jesus. He knows what is coming and shares this truth with his disciples. And in this short segment, Jesus speaks, especially of the fire He will send on the Day of Pentecost with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. But our Lord also speaks of the fire of God’s mercy that burned in the life of the prophet Jeremiah and in the lives of the clouds of witnesses the writer of the Hebrews calls to our attention. God is teaching us that to be growing and healthy in this heavenly kingdom the fire of God is essential as it brings us to our hearts God’s holy passions, it brings us to know divisions may be needed and that decisions must be made. For the love of God.
It is about dividing the clump. As a gardener, I have long loved the bearded iris that bloom in the Spring. Their distinctive scent, vibrant colors, and robust blooms are beautiful reminders of the promise, life, and hope of Spring. But anyone who has grown these gifts of Spring knows that when doing well iris grow and develop into thick clumps of matted bulbs or rhizomes. These clumps will bring the many blooms that make them so beautiful. But only for a while. The clumps will, with time, grow into overgrown, thick mats that bring smaller and fewer blooms. They simply stop growing as they should.
Our faith is much the same. We grow, we bloom. We develop strong thick roots of comfort and familiarity. We are at home with similar bulbs settling into the gospel of “this is the way it was always done”. Then the Holy Spirit comes and divides the clump!
The Day of Pentecost was such a time. Jesus, God incarnate had come. The Messiah was crucified and then arose from the dead. He then ascended into heaven, returning to the Father. The disciples, still struggling with all that had happened gathered in their spiritual home, Jerusalem. They did what their faith taught them to do. They prayed as Jesus had told them. Then with a crash, the Holy Spirit came and divided the clump! Blessings and persecutions quickly followed. The disciples and their faith family were torn. Painfully, gradually but irrevocably the apron strings were being cut. God was bringing the faithful to realize they had to choose between the comforts of the old and the fire and power of the new. They were learning that while their past, how things had been taught and dome was all good. Very good in fact. But it was also meant to prepare them and the world for what, or more accurately Who was to come. It wasn’t about practices it IS about a Person, Jesus Christ, “the leader and perfector of our faith”.
The writer of Hebrews realized this. With great love and devotion, the Hebrew liturgies and beliefs were shared. This powerful book starts to culminate with the eleventh chapter, the roll call of faith. In that chapter, many of the great FAITH-FILLED Hebrew saints are shared. And as each of the is studied we learn they all encountered that fire of God that caused them to face the flames, the divisions, and the decisions as they realized God was calling them to something more. God was calling them to be closer to Him.
This is the cloud of witnesses the writer refers to in our second reading. This holy cloud of witnesses has grown. Many are the saints, many are the faithful who have completed their earthly course and gone on to God. It is from their heavenly home they witness and work, with God’s holy angels to help us in our quest, our pilgrimage for Christ. And they all, with their distinct witness and graces, share in one vital mission, to help us focus on and see Jesus. They help bring the fire of God in our lives to burn in our hearts and to see how God would bring us to grow in His Presence. It is as we look to our God we learn that when His hands, pierced by love seek to divide our clumps yhat He is doing so to bring even closer to Him.