Sunday, August 14, 2016

20th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Jesus, Fire & Division

Today's readings remind us of conflicts that may arise due to our faith in Christ.

In the first reading, we read of the princes plotting against Jeremiah.  They asked the king to put him to death because Jeremiah was "demoralizing" the soldiers and causing divisions, according to them.  King Zedekiah gave the okay to them to do as they wished.  They threw Jeremiah into the cistern of Prince Malchiah.  He was placed in a pit and left to sink in mud. Ebed-melech came and told the king that the princes were mistaken and convinced the king to have Jeremiah released.  This story is a foreshadowing of what Christ would go through.  The Pharisees would call for His execution by fabricating lies against Him (Mark 3:6).  Jesus, the innocent Lamb of God is put to death (1 Peter 1:20).  We too who profess faith in Christ Jesus will be slandered and will go through much hardship (Luke 12:11 ).  This is all part of the package, so to speak, of following Christ.  We must carry the cross (Matthew 16:24).  However, God will be there for us comforting us and aiding us as we read in today's Psalm.  "Lord, come to my aide!"  These are the words we should say when we face hardships.

The typical response by humans is to defend oneself or take revenge. However, for a Catholic, we bear the suffering for the sake of the kingdom (1 Peter 2:19-20).  We must wait for the Lord.  He will rescue us.  He will draw us out of the pit of destruction.  God does not abandon us (Deuteronomy 31:6).  We must persevere. Those we may feel alone at times, we are not.  There are a cloud of witnesses there cheering for us and praying for us (Revelation 5:8).  We are in the real Olympics competing against the powers of this world (Ephesians 6:12).  Our enemy is not our neighbor (Protestants, Muslims, Jews, Gays, Atheists, etc), but Satan and his legion of fallen angels.  The second reading reminds us of this cloud of witnesses cheering for us as we run in the face keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus who is the "gold medal," so to speak.  Jesus endured the cross for us.  We too must endure it for Him.  Sin is a struggle. We must not give up.  Sin is like a drug addiction. We will go through withdrawal symptoms and desire to get back on the drug.  However, if we fix our eyes on Christ and receive Him in the Sacraments, we will do fine.

Finally in the Gospel, Jesus tells of the fire He wants to set on earth.  This fire is the fire of the Holy Spirit which Our Lady and the Apostles received on Pentecost, the birthday of the Catholic Church (Acts 2).  Fire destroys things, but in nature, it renews things.  Fires in forests that happen naturally do so because it is nature's way of recycling itself ( Trees burn and fall to the grown. The remains nourish the soil which beings another cycle of life with new and bigger trees.  Jesus like an arsonist wants to burn the evil in our lives.  From these ashes will rise new holy people guided by the Holy Spirit. However, this will not be and easy thing for all to take in. While Jesus is the prince of peace, He is also a cause for division. One may wonder why, which is a valid inquiry. Jesus causes division because the world conflicts with Him.

The world does not want God (John 15:18). It fights God.  When some in the world follow God, the world will counter causing division. We see this in families. I know of families who protest a son entering seminary or a daughter entering the convent. Some in my own family protested my conversion to Catholicism from Atheism.  I am sure you reading this have your own stories of how you faced opposition due to your faith.  Even in the Church we see divisions, not only with Protestantism, but among Catholics who disagree with each other and even the pope.  Some may call themselves more Catholic or traditional than others.  This is all due to pride and the struggle within the human whether or not to follow Christ or the world and human desires of power, greed and control.  Let us fix our eyes on Christ and let His fire burn the junk in us that keeps us far from Him.  May Jesus Christ be praised.


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