Jeremiah 38: 4-6, 8-10
Hebrews 12: 1-4
Luke 12: 49-53
“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!”
“Do you think that I have come to establish peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”
It is a little jarring to hear these words coming from the mouth of Jesus Christ. Where is the gentle Shepherd? The one who welcomed little children? The one who talked about turning the other cheek? Where did this rabble rouser come from? But should we be surprised by this? After all, early in the Gospel of Luke, we see John the Baptist, speaking of the coming Messiah, declaring; “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
I think that we sometimes forget that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Christ the King, Christ the ultimate Priest, is also Christ the Prophet. He is coming from a long line of Jewish prophets. And these prophets did not just predict the future; their main role was to speak the word of God, the word of Yahweh. They spent most of their lives calling the people of Israel back into a loving relationship with God. Among these prophets was Jeremiah. He lived during a time when the empire King David and Solomon built up had been shattered, the northern tribes of Israel had been dispersed and exiled. Only the southern kingdom of Judah was left. The king of Judah, to insure his kingdom’s survival entered into an alliance with a powerful and ancient Egypt. Now the price of this alliance was to allow the worship of the Egyptian gods in Judah, which also allowed the resurgence of the worship of the ancient Canaanite gods. The king of Judah was no longer turning to Yahweh for help and protection. Along comes Jeremiah, telling the people that salvation lies not in earthly alliances, but in remaining faithful to the covenant with God. He is trying to shake the people up, to bring them back to God. Reading the signs of the times, he predicted that this alliance would ultimately lead to the destruction of the nation. The king and his advisers do not want this kind of talk getting around, so they initially try to silence Jeremiah …permanently. God inspired a court official to convince the king to save Jeremiah; but we see that being a prophet, especially one with an uncomfortable message, has its consequences. But Jeremiah was committed to reigniting the fire in the hearts of his people, the love for God, to call them to conversion.
Jesus’ coming has changed the world, the old ways of humanity, the old ways of relating which each other, of relating to God the Father, were to be wiped away, and a new heaven and a new earth was to come into being. His message was not popular with many people, especially those who had a lot invested in the old ways of doing things, in the old structures of power. They put Jesus to death, hoping to silence the message, but the Father raised Him from the dead, and his message blazed out throughout the world, carried by his followers. The Gospel of Christ was, and still is controversial, because it threatens the way many see the world and their comfortable relationship with it. We have seen the negative reactions that many people expressed about Pope Francis’ comments about capitalism, the world economy, and the needs of the poor. And, yes, when the Gospel is authentically lived; it has the potential to cause divisions among family members, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. Anyone who is so comfortable with the way society is, the way the world is, the way their lives are, they do not want to change. Even though the society, the world is so full of injustice, pain and suffering; even though their lives may be empty and at times full of pain; they feel threatened by the Gospel, the call for conversion. So they try to make the Gospel irrelevant, they try to keep the Word of God in a box.
And we need to ask ourselves, where are we in all of this? Has the fire gone out of our faith communities, has it been extinguished in our hearts? A scholar of the Christian religion, Martin Marty, has called Europe and North America the “Ice Belt,” because he sees the fire of Christianity dying out. Are we willing stand by and just let this happen. Our Church, our Holy Father, our Archbishop says no, and they are challenging themselves and us to rekindle that fire which first disciples experienced with Christ, and let it burn anew in our hearts. Let us recommit ourselves to, with the help of the Father’s grace, the inspiration of the Word of God, and the light of the Holy Spirit; to live, really live the Good News. Let us, as St. Paul wrote, “Persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.” Let us set the world ablaze!