18 August 2019
Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10
Hebrews 12:1-4, 8-19
A young man 23 years old who had a very well paid job arrived home one night to announce to his family that he was giving up his job to go as an aid worker in a refugee camp in a country where there was a dangerous civil war. His parents couldn’t accept his decision and did everything to get him to change his mind. They reminded him that at a time of so much unemployment he mightn’t get a job when he returned. He could even be killed as some of the other aid workers already had been. But he would not change his mind saying that he had a fire inside him that kept burning him up and he knew he wouldn’t be satisfied until he went.
In the gospel today Jesus says that he has come to ‘set fire to the earth’. What does he mean? Well, like the young man Jesus feels that he has a mission from his heavenly Father to work to bring about the reign of God so that peace, justice, truth and love might be established. If this could be done then there would be no more injustice and all peoples would have a reasonable lifestyle. Was he a just dreamer, an idealist given the situation in which he found himself where his country was under the control of the Roman Empire?
Jesus may well have had to face the same struggle as the young man. He was living in Nazareth; he had a job as a carpenter and was well known among his own villagers. Then he tells his mother and others that he has to give up his job to become a travelling preacher to proclaim God’s kingdom. His mother Mary may well have reacted as the parents of that young man did. “Where are you going to live, where will you get the money to eat? What you are doing is very dangerous and risky. You have a good job here and are well known – why this?”
But Jesus too has a fire burning within him that does not allow him to stay put, to continue as he was before. It is the fire of purification. Like all of us when we are faced with decisions involving great change we may have a fire within which can purify us. Of course, we can resist this fire burning within. We can decide it is too risky to change and so we stay as we are.
Like Jesus too it is a baptism, not just of water but a baptism of the Spirit. If we are true to this as Jesus was, for sure it may lead us to suffer. Jesus too asks his disciples for this choice, that decision that will bring peace eventually but beforehand it may involve suffering. When Jesus says that he did not come to bring peace, we wonder what he is saying. What he says is that he is not here to bring a peace as the world offers peace. The peace Jesus offers has to be a peace based on justice, truth and love. This will disturb people who want to keep things as they are for their own benefit. Living according to Christian values may bring us into conflict with others who don’t accept them or disagree with them.
If we take the death penalty, in the same families there are totally opposing beliefs and sometimes members of the same family stop talking to each other as the debate heats up. Jesus was speaking about reality when he said that if we follow him there would be division in families because some will accept his ways others won’t. I know a family where some are pro-life and others pro-abortion and it has got to the stage that there are deep divisions in the same family because of it. So real peace will only come about when people follow the ways of Jesus but this can be very costly.
There is a certain young couple who were together for 2 years and all their friends and family members were convinced that they would marry. Then one day the young woman told her boyfriend that she couldn’t continue as she felt the call to the religious life. It was a very costly decision. It almost broke her heart and his too as he could not understand it. But she felt this fire within to follow Jesus in a different way.
Jeremiah heard the call of Yahweh and paid the price by being thrown into the well and almost losing his life. Jesus heard God’s call and did lose his life. The reality is that if we hear God calling us in whatever vocation it may be, marriage, religious life, aid workers etc. we may be laughed at. If we challenge people who live a comfortable lifestyle and ask their help in making the world a better place for the poor and marginalised in our society they may well refuse. They know it will cost them.
Jesus was being very truthful today and his call to us is very demanding. It may easier to pray devotions and go to Mass weekly which are all good in themselves but if we stop there and don’t respond to the fire within us to follow Jesus more closely we will never have the deep peace and joy he is offering us.
“Lord Jesus, give us the courage to live always according to your value system even though it may be very costly. Amen”
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA