20 Sunday C: Set the Earth on Fire


Jesus-fire

Michel de VerteuilGeneral Textual comments

The gospel passage for this Sunday is in three sections
– verse 49;
– verse 50;
– and verses 51 to 53.
As I have often recommended, you should meditate on one section at a time. But you will find that in this passage the three sections complement one another; if taken together, they correct any false interpretations which could arise if they were read separately. Think of them, therefore, as parts of a beautifully constructed building in which each part is appreciated in relation to the whole.

H SP & fire The metaphor of fire in verse 49 is difficult to tie down, because it is a common one and can be interpreted in many different ways. In fact, it is used with a variety of interpretations in the Bible itself: the tongues of fire representing the coming of the Spirit; the burning fire of love, and so on. The interpretation probably intended by Jesus in this passage is the one we find in chapter 3 of St Luke’s gospel, where John the Baptist said that the Messiah would come and baptise with the Holy Spirit and with fire, and went on to explain that he would gather God’s pure wheat into the barn and dispatch the chaff to be burnt in a fire that would never go out. In our passage, then, Jesus is at a moment in his life – one that we can identify with –  when he is deeply moved by all the chaff in the world, the phoniness, the arrogance, the oppression, and he longs to see it going up in a great bonfire, while true goodness is gathered safely into God’s barn.
 Secondly, the sayings of Jesus are usually metaphors, speaking to our imagination. You say the words with Jesus, then, getting in touch with the particular form of chaff that makes you indignant
racism– hypocrisy, or
-racism, or
-manipulation
– and getting in touch with the particular part of “the earth” where you see it – your family, your church community, your country or some other country, your own self. Experience with Jesus the blessedness of hungering and thirsting for God’s justice to be realized in the world.
Thank God for those people you have known who saw it as their mission in life (“I have come to…”) to expose evil in one of its hidden forms and refuse to accept it passively as we are inclined to do. Put their names into the verse so that you can experience that the Spirit of Jesus is still in the world.
There is a danger that we will read verse 49 self-righteously or fanatically, and it has often been read like this, Christians covering up a natural hardness or intolerance with the pretence that it was the will of God.
Verse 50 comes, therefore, as a corrective. Jesus is anxious to cast fire, but he took no pleasure in this; he expressed his feelings with the metaphor of a baptism with which he had to be baptised, not referring to the sacrament, but using the word in its original sense of drowning. He felt he was being thrown into a dark abyss and he was afraid. Identify with him at this moment. All his life has been leading here, he knew it was the only way to go, that he would be bringing new life for the world, and yet, he was afraid. This was the moment the synoptic gospels recorded as the agony in the garden and St John in Chapter 12 verse 27:
forgive me “Now my soul is troubled.
What shall I say:
Father, save me from this hour?

No, it was this reason that I have come to this hour.
Father, glorify your name.”
The Epistle to the Hebrews also describes this moment:
“He offered up prayer and entreaty, aloud and in silent tears to the one who had power to save him out of death.” The prophet Hababuk had the same feeling as he waited for a moment of grace:
“My whole body trembles, my lips quiver at the sound;
decay creeps into my bones, my steps falter beneath me.”
 Be with people who are living that moment, knowing that they are doing the right thing and yet insecure and afraid of the hurts they will cause others, “carrying with them in their bodies the death of Jesus,” as St Paul described it.
jesus knocks 1Finally, enter into the movement of verses 51-53, with its “do you suppose?” and “no”. Remember a time when you took for granted that the teaching of Jesus was going to make life easier for you, and someone or some event brought you up short, hitting you with the realization, “Hey! It isn’t like that at all.” That was Jesus entering your life.
Respond to the concreteness of the teaching. It is a family of five: mother, father, a married son with his wife and a daughter, and they are divided three against two and two against three. Let the repetitiveness touch you so that you experience the continued pain and the frustration of the division. Then bring Jesus into the story, looking on at that painful situation and saying that it is what has to be. See him as the great leader, not hiding the facts, nor abdicating his responsibility, and thank God for people you have known who were like that.
 Prayer Reflection
Lord, we thank you
that you know there is a fire you want to bring to the earth
and you wish it were blazing already.
We know that you did not come to bring peace on earth
but rather division.
We thank you for the times
when you brought some separation between us
and people we knew were very close to us.
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Thomas O’LoughlinIntroduction to the Celebration
Dear Friends, each week we gather in union with Jesus, the Christ, the Anointed One, the Son of the Father, the Word made flesh and listen to his words, share his table, and join our lives with his great act of thanksgiving to the Father. But how often do we ask ourselves have we an adequate image in our minds of who it is we are following as Christians? Today the readings pull us up short and ask us to deepen our understanding of Jesus. We often think of Jesus as ‘the man of peace’; but today we hear that he is a prophet who came to bring division rather than peace. We sometimes reduce our understanding of Jesus to being some kind of moral teacher
with a few ‘general simple truths’, but today we hear that Jesus, the Son of God, isjesus is 1 ‘the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.’ Now, assembled in his presence, let us ask him to give us a deeper understanding of himself and his good news.

Gospel Notes
Although this statement by Luke is more fulsome, this material is also found in Mt 10:34-36, and has been a source of anguish to preachers for centuries. If one accepts this as a basic verse within a christology, then the result is a messiah who comes to lead just a few people who accept his message in a form that revels in any clash with the times and the cultures in which people live. On the other hand, if one relegates these verses it could appear that one is praising peace at the price of compromising the word of God. Moreover, it was only with the advances in hermeneutics in the twentieth century that this sort of dilemma was successfully transcended.
But very briefly, we can view these collections of sayings (in Matthew and Luke) in this way. First, the starting point is the actual opposition to Jesus during his ministry, which has continued into the time of the church in opposition to those who embrace its teachings about Jesus. The fact is the opposition, and with this the fact that friendships are being broken and so are bonds of loyalty within families. Second, this is acknowledged in words by Jesus and the format of these words is a form of exaggeration that makes the point that the opposition is inevitable. He not only accepts it has happened, but knew ‘all along’ that it would happen; indeed, he wishes it to happen as it would make sure that people were coming to a decision about discipleship.
The problem with this text is that the statements taken as ‘words from the bible’ or ‘the plain words of Jesus’ can, within a popular biblical hermeneutic, be taken as a justification for assessing religious ideas as being those which are most likely to provoke opposition in the larger society. This effectively confuses the necessary counter-cultural stance that Christians need to take on specific points with an attitude of being awkward ‘for Jesus’, on the assumption that the larger society is inherently sinful and corrupt.

Homly notes
1. A homily at a Sunday Eucharist is not a suitable occasion to tackle the difficulties of today’s gospel; the backgrounds of the average congregation are too diverse to assume any of the levels of understanding to deal with this complex gospel theme; and even if the congregation has a great many people who have a good familiarity with the gospels and their exegesis, there is not the time in a homily to grapple with these five verses. However, one can use the gospel reading as a peg to hang an exploration of the question ‘Who is Jesus?’ that is accessible to an average assembly. In this case one reads the gospel as a ‘wake-up call’: so you think you know about Jesus and his message? Well, just look at this text with its prediction of family strife which is so much at variance with much Christian preaching on the family. So you think you know his message of peace, then look at what this text says. So you think that the Christian gospel can be boiled down to some general set of ‘great moral truths’ — which are more or less the same in every religion but it just so happens that we hear them in the ‘Jesus version,’ then now look at this text and ask if Jesus fits neatly into your box.
2. If the congregation is a small one, then one can ask them to list all the different names and titles we give to Jesus. The resulting list then can form the basis for the homily. However, if the gathering is large, uncomfortable with the idea of participating in the homily, or is just generally reticent, then you can provide a list of your own. The idea is to note the complexity of the list, and then see how the various names/titles! designations relate one to another.
Jesus-titles3. Here is a list I have drawn up. I have come up with 50 names / titles in no particular order: Jesus Christ; the Christ; Christ; Messiah; Anointed One; Son of David; Son of Man; Son of God; Light; Light from light; Fisher of men; Shepherd; Man; King of the Jews; Sacred Heart; Prince of Peace; Son of Mary; Logos; Word; Word made flesh; Bread of life; The Crucified; The Man of Sorrows; Second Person of the Trinity; Guide; Carpenter’s son; Alpha and Omega; Saviour; Conqueror of sin; Redeemer; King; the Infant of Prague; King of Kings; God; Priest; Prophet; Lord; Liberator; Son of the Father; High Priest; Master; Rabbi; Teacher; Healer; Lamb of God; Victor over death; Sovereign; Brother; Friend; ‘the pioneer and perfecter of our faith’. We could keep going as any number of other images and titles have been given to Jesus within the life of the People of God; but probably in this list you will find all the common ones.
4. When we take any such lists we notice that (1) they can be seen to belong to various frames of reference; and (2) that all these names have to be co-coordinated to one another.
5. Just to keep it neat, I break these into seven boxes:
First, we have names that are used by Jesus or of Jesus in the four gospels: the Christ (= Messiah; Anointed One); Son of David; Son of Man; Man; King of the Jews; Son of Mary; Bread of life; Carpenter’s son; King; Prophet; Lord; Master; Rabbi; Teacher Lamb of God.

Second
, we have names that have been used since the first generations of Christians: Son of God; Light; Shepherd; Prince of Peace; Son of Mary; Logos; Word; Word made flesh; Bread of life; The Crucified; The Man of Sorrows; Alpha and Omega; Saviour; Conqueror of sin; Redeemer; King; God; Priest; Prophet; Lord; Son of the Father; High Priest; Master; Rabbi; Teacher; Healer; Lamb of God; ‘the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.’
Third, we have names that are derived from our reflection on the history of salvation: Messiah Anointed One; Son of David; Son of Man; Prince of Peace; The Man of Sorrows; King; King of Kings; Priest; Prophet; Lord; High Priest.

Fourth
, we have names that have to be linked with one another if they are not to be found wanting: ‘Son of God’ with ‘Son of Mary’; ‘Man’ with ‘God.’
Fifth, we have names that are used in the church’s formal expression of faith: Light from light; Second Person of the Trinity; Redeemer.
Sixth, we have names that come from popular devotions:
Sacred Heart; Infant of Prague.
Seventh, we have informal names, but which capture essential aspects of our faith: Shepherd; Guide; Carpenter’s son; Liberator; Teacher; Healer; Brother; Friend.
6. The ways we could group the names is endless; just as we could keep adding to the list. The need for all these names is that the person at the centre of our faith exceeds all our understanding. A mystery is not a puzzle, but a reality so beyond our understanding that we have to keep trying to grasp it, now this way, now that. But these various glimpses must always be used in ‘both-and’ mode, rather than in the ‘either- or’ mode, of understanding. The ‘either-or’ mode is suitable for ordinary everyday objects of understanding; but if ‘to understand’/’to appreciate’ another person we might meet every day in the flesh we need to use the ‘both-and’ mode, how much more is this true of our seeking the one who came ‘to bring fire upon the earth.’
7. No group’s list, nor individual’s list, will be the same as any other, but what is included and what is missed out may provide a glimpse into that group’s or individual’s level of religious awareness and spirituality.
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Sean Goan
Gospel notes

The idea that the kingdom of God is both a gift and a challenge is very present in the extract from the gospel that is put before us today. The encouraging opening words inspire confidence in the hearers as Jesus reminds his ‘little flock’ that there is no need for fear because the kingdom has been given. So if the disciples are not to fear, what should they do? Jesus answers this question in a most challenging way by telling them to think differently about the world and their place in it. They should not be concerned about wealth or the exercise of power; rather they should busy themselves doing what the Lord asks of them as any good servant would do. Jesus puts it to his disciples very sternly — much has been given you, so much will be expected from you. This is not to inspire fear but to inspire reflection on how gifted we truly are.
God changes things

Reflection
Both today’s readings highlight the meaning of faith, and stress that it has more to do with trusting in God than it has with believing certain truths. On the night of Passover the Israelites, who were a powerless band of runaway slaves, were escaping from the greatest empire in the world. They were heading out into the wilderness not knowing their final destination. Equally Abraham and Sarah were asked to set out for a land they did not know and to leave everything with which they were familiar. In following Christ, we too are asked to take God’s hand and to follow a path which is often at odds with the values of the world in which we live. We are to be Christ’s instruments as he reaches out to those most in need.
discipleship
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4. Donal Neary S.J.
Disturbing love and the warmth of love
Fire is frightening; it can burn up a city. Controlled it is warming: in control in a grate; and it also warms the heart, when we sit back, watch the flames and chat, think or pray. Jesus came to bring fire on the earth.
His is the warmth of love and companionship: when we know we can go to him just as we are, and enjoy the intimacy of his friendship – the friend who is always offering the gift of his heart to each of us.
fire of love
The warmth of Jesus brings comfort and hope to the world when we live in isolation from each other, lack of friendship and hope. When we lack the reconciliation and justice that makes life possible among us, then the warmth of God’s love for all can inflame our coldness.
There is also the fire that disturbs; love challenges as well as comforts. The flame of God can be frightening in that it demands a world of justice, peace and reconciliation. The fire of this love is the fire that also warms and comforts.
The flame of God is the Holy Spirit. Jesus comes to bring all sorts of fire to the world, and to send the Spirit of comfort, justice, reconciliation and hope. The message of Jesus may divide us, and if it does, the love of Jesus can unite us, for love is the most powerful gift of Jesus.
A saying has it — he has come to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.
Holy Spirit, flame of God,
hover over each of us as
you did for the followers of Jesus
at the first Pentecost.
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1.     From Connections: 
“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already ablaze . . . Do you think that I have come to establish peace on earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division.”
Luke 12: 49-56
THE WORD: 
When Luke wrote these few lines of his Gospel, Christians were living through difficult times and circumstances.  In many places they were treated with ridicule, disdain and intolerance.  Jesus’ words are addressed to them and to all Christians who have paid dearly for living their faith in their time and place.
Fire is a Scriptural symbol of judgment.  The Lord will judge the hearts of all men and women in the light of the Gospel's “blaze.” 
The word used in the original text that reads here as baptism actually means a “plunging,” a total submersion.  Jesus continues on to Jerusalem where he will be “plunged” into the Passover of the new covenant into which, through baptism, we will all be “plunged,” as well. 
The Gospel is not a soft, easy message to embrace. Jesus does not sugarcoat his message:  Families and households will be divided over the hard demands of the Gospel of reconciliation, justice and servanthood.

HOMILY POINTS: 
The compassion, the selflessness, the humility, the justice that Jesus demands of those who would be his disciples are a “fire” and “baptism” through which we transform our world in the life and love of God.  The challenge of discipleship, Jesus teaches, is not to let God’s word of justice and mercy divide us but to realize the word’s ability to bring all humanity together as God’s holy people. 
To live the Gospel faithfully is to become a contradiction to those around us, to seek to attain a higher ethical and moral standard in confronting life's challenges.  The Gospel calls us to risk power, prestige and even acceptance to stand up for the equality, justice, compassion and reconciliation that every individual possesses by virtue of being a son and daughter of God. 
The Gospel of Jesus is not easy, it is not comfortable; it is challenging and demanding and, in its call for personal conversion, it can be divisive and confrontational.  Discipleship is not without cost; balancing the Gospel of unconditional, reconciling love and its ethical and moral imperatives with the reality of our lives is very difficult.  Despite the divisive consequences, Christ calls us to the hard work of seeking the mercy and justice of God and living his Gospel of reconciliation and peace in our own time and place, regardless of the cost. 
In the divisions we suffer, in the contradictions we encounter, in the disconnect between the conventional wisdom and the wisdom of God, the love of God is the one constant that brings us back to one another, that heals the rifts, that bridges that divides between us.  
Story: The promise 
In Thornton Wilder’s play, The Skin of Our Teeth, Maggie Antrobus confronts her husband, who is about to leave her for his mistress: 
“I didn't marry you because you were perfect, George . . . I married you because you gave me a promise.  That promise made up for your faults.  And the promise I gave you made up for mine.  Two imperfect people got married, and it was that promise that made the marriage . . . And when our children were growing up, it wasn't a house that protected them and it wasn't our love that protected them -- it was that promise.”
Jesus portends a rather depressing and hopeless image of dysfunction and discord -- we all realize that life is filled with such pain.  But the ultimate hope of the Gospel is the never-wavering love of God, the promise of the Father's love for his faithful people.  It is hope that we make real for one another in our “promises” of love, support and forgiveness to others, in the “promise” of God's limitless love and unconditional forgiveness for his holy people.  Fired by God’s Word within us, faithful to the baptism we have embraced, may we always live our lives centered in the constant hope of God's mercy, reconciliation and peace.
 
2.     From Andrew Greeley: 
Background: 
 The Gospel today continues the emphasis on urgency in the message of Jesus. He is not praising family quarrels. Nor is he advocating them. But he is saying that, however essential family ties may be, we cannot permit them to interfere, in the really and truly important things in life.   
There are no magic formulae for balancing the demands of family and the demands of faith. Usually we must try to respond to both. No one can use God as an excuse for abjuring responsibility to spouse and children and parents.  
...yet there are times when we are backed into a corner and must choose.
 Story: 
Once upon a time at the end of a summer vacation, a young man called his mother and father and brothers and sisters together after a day on the beach. There was something important he wanted to tell them. He was going into his third year at college (pick whatever one you want). His grades were wonderful, he was charming, and popular, and successful. Everyone   expected he would do important things in life. His father was a medical doctor and from the day this eldest son was born he assumed that the boy would follow him into his profession. There had never been any discussion of the matter. No discussion was necessary. Occupational inheritance was taken for granted.
So what was the important subject he wanted to talk about? Well, you guess it. He had the crazy idea he wanted to be a priest. In fact, he was going to the seminary in September. There was a moment of dead silence. Then the father said that no son of his was going to become a priest. He had no respect for priests. They were parasites. If his son wanted to be a priest, then he would no longer be his son. Then the father stormed out of the room and left everyone in silence. You have ruined our family, his mother told him. Are you gay, said one of his brothers. You never did like girls, his sister added.  
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3.     From ACP 
Rugged Individuals 
“Oh all you who walk by, consider and see if there is any sorrow like unto my sorrow.” These words are often applied to Jesus, but they were not said BY Jesus. They are from the Lamentations of Jeremiah (1:12), a saintly figure from the Old Testament whose life bears close resemblance to that of Jesus. He lived in the 6th century B.C., an age of great upheaval in the Middle East, which saw the collapse of the Assyrian empire, and the emergence of a greater one in Babylon. Having been in bondage to Assyria for some time, the Jewish leaders allowed their faith in God, and worship of him, to become tainted by pagan practice. 
The task God gave to Jeremiah was to condemn idolatry. Pagan idols were even set up in the Temple itself – and to warn against forming an alliance against Babylon, something which ultimately led to the end of the Jewish monarchy. The ruling officials blocked all his efforts, and even wanted to kill him, but in such a way as to make it appear that he died of the famine then afflicting the country. The king, despite having little real power, managed to save him. Being a young man of gentle character, Jeremiah’s whole being shuddered before God’s call to him, which was “to tear up and to knock down, to destroy and to overthrow” (1:10). As we see from his own descriptions it was to lead him to the verge of despair. “Each time I speak, I have to cry out and shout, “Violence and destruction.” The word of the Lord has brought on me insult and derision all day long” (20:8). “I hear many muttering, “Terror is everywhere. Denounce him. Let us denounce him” (20:10). 
Faced with such threats, the agony of Jeremiah grew intense. “Woe is me my mother, that you gave birth to me, to be a man of strife and discord for all the land” (15:10). “Why is my suffering endless, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?” (15:18). “Cursed be the day when I was born” (20:18). But self-concern was not allowed dominate his thoughts. “Oh that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep night and day for all the dead of my people” (8:23). Jeremiah was going through what St John of the Cross called “the dark night of the soul,” when the soul specially chosen by God seems to be abandoned by him. By such suffering the heart of Jeremiah was purified, leaving it open to the wishes of God.
Instead of tying it to externals like the Law, circumcision, sacrifice, the Temple itself, Jeremiah began to see that religion should really be inward, a more personal relationship with God. Deep within his people’s psyche God would plant his Law, writing it on their hearts (Jer 31:33). A thousand years later, St Augustine was of similar mind. “Seek God within” was his motto. “Enter into yourselves,” he advised, “for truth dwells in the interior person.” The practice of interior, personal religion by Jeremiah is what makes him dear to Christians. He foresaw a new covenant between God and the house of Israel, the first time such an idea is found in Judaism. Incidentally the words of consecration over the chalice in every Mass refer to “the blood of the new and everlasting covenant.” Both Jesus and Jeremiah had obvious love for the ordinary people, and a burning desire for their welfare, and both were rejected by the powers-that-be of their time. 
What Caiphas the high priest said of Jesus, “It is better for one man to die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed” (Jn 11:50) echoes what the leading men in Jerusalem said of the prophet Jeremiah, “This fellow does not have the welfare of the people at heart, but its ruin”. When they plotted to kill Jeremiah, he was only saved by an Egyptian, who helped draw him out of the muddy well into which he had been thrown. The only person to help Jesus on his way to Calvary, Simon of Cyrene, was also a foreigner, a Libyan. In God’s wise providence, help can come from the most unexpected quarters. 

Peace and Division 
“Do you suppose that I am come to bring peace on earth?” The honest answer has to be that we would hope so. We’ve come to equate Jesus with peace; is he not the Prince of Peace? The Communion Rite links him with peace; the discourse at the Last Supper is peppered with the word. Yet, when he answers his own question, he confuses us. “No. I tell you, but rather division.” 
The homily might look at the life of Jesus for clues as to how “peace” and “division” can be reconciled. One approach is to find Jesus exercising options in his life; facing moments when he has a choice of two roads – the easy pliant one of the prevailing culture or the lonely reforming one. His decisions cause divisions. Some of the division and turmoil is within himself (the garden scene.) some between himself and others – his mother and relatives. Peter on the road to Jerusalem, the final divisiveness of the cross of scandal. 
We can explore how each time Jesus decides to follow the Father’s will, that one movement has two effects. It divides him off from those who won’t take the step with him, and it moves Jesus deeper into the kind of peace that comes from being true to who you are. The peace that Jesus talks about begins to take a definite shape. It is not the wishy-washy, compromising, anything-for-a-quiet-life kind of peace. The mention of “division” in the same breath no longer is seen as strange. We begin to see division as almost the price of peace. We could spend time going through the decisions of Jesus. He reached out; he had compassion; he suffered along with people; he understood pain; he broke bread for the hungry; he befriended the poor and sinners; he was at ease with the small people who lived in the shadow of the powerful.
The problem is, we’ve read and heard these scenes a thousand times… but we’ve lost sight of how disruptive and unconventional Jesus was. He talked of Samaritans saving Jewish lives! He praised the father who embraced the son who shamed him! You were to share your cloak and tunic, all you wore, literally! The soldier in the occupying army was to be accompanied not just the one mile but another mile, unbidden. 
Jesus left the self-centred behind, not because he wished to, but because they did. His open-handed approach to others provoked a clench-fisted reaction in them. They would have to be rid of this challenging presence. The crucifixion was meant to silence him for good. Instead, it gave him the final, supreme option. It not only capped his life of sacrifice but raised up a symbol to disturb us over the centuries. The sacrificed life of Jesus indicates the amount of harrowing that must go into all lives if we are to aspire to the peace he calls us to.
 
Contemporary prophets in the Church:  
The Jesuit Cardinal Avery Dulles, writing about the role of prophecy in the modern church communities in his book Models of the Church, remarks: “Christianity is not healthy unless there is room in it for prophetic protest against abuses of authority.” God continues to send such prophets to every parish community and it is the duty of the bishop, pastor and parish council to listen to the well-intended and constructive criticisms of such Jeremiahs.

4. Tony De Melo:  Where's the Fire? 

There was a man who invented the art of making fire. He took his tools and went to a tribe in the north, where it was very cold, bitterly cold. He taught the people there to make fire. The people were very interested. He showed them the uses to which they could put fire: they could cook, could keep themselves warm, etc. They were so grateful that they had learned the art of making fire. But before they could express their gratitude to the man, he disappeared. He wasn’t concerned with getting their recognition or gratitude; he was concerned about their well-being. He went to another tribe, where he again began to show them the value of his invention. People were interested there too, a bit too interested for the peace of mind of their priests, who began to notice that this man was drawing crowds and they were losing their popularity. So they decided to do away with him. They poisoned him, crucified him, put it any way you like. But they were afraid now that the people might turn against them, so they were very wise, even wily. Do you know what they did? They had a portrait of the man made and mounted it on the main altar of the temple. The instruments for making fire were placed in front of the portrait, and the people were taught to revere the portrait and to pay reverence to the instruments of fire, which they dutifully did for centuries. The veneration and the worship went on, but there was no fire.

Where’s the fire? Where’s the love? Where’s the freedom? This is what spirituality is all about. Tragically, we tend to lose sight of this, don’t we? This is what Jesus Christ is all about. But we overemphasized the “Lord, Lord,” didn’t we? Where’s the fire? And if worship isn’t leading to the fire, if adoration isn’t leading to love, if the liturgy isn’t leading to a clearer perception of reality, if God isn’t leading to life, of what use is religion except to create more division, more fanaticism, more antagonism? It is not from lack of religion in the ordinary sense of the word that the world is suffering, it is from lack of love, lack of awareness. And love is generated through awareness and through no other way, no other way. Understand the obstructions you are putting in the way of love, freedom, and happiness and they will drop. Turn on the light of awareness and the darkness will disappear.
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Fr. Jude Botelho:

Jeremiah had the unpleasant task of warning the people that if they continued in their corrupt way of life and did not repent and return to God their nation would be destroyed. The people did not like Jeremiah’s warnings and complained that his message was demoralizing the people. He was accused of treason and punished by being lowered in a cistern where he was stuck in the mud until he was rescued. Jeremiah knew he had to speak the truth and warn the people no matter what the consequences for his life. Despite his pain, the prophet remained faithful to his mission.

Courage to confront
In the 1920s an English adventurer named Mallory led an expedition to conquer Mount Everest. His first, second and even his third attempt, with an experienced team, met with failure. Upon his return to England, the few who had survived held a banquet to salute Mallory and those who had perished. As he stood up to speak he looked around and saw picture frames of himself and those who had died. Then he turned his back on the crowd and faced a large picture of Mount Everest looming large like an unbeatable giant. With tears streaming down his face, he spoke to the mountain on behalf of his dead friends. “I speak to you Mt. Everest, in the name of all brave men living, and those yet unborn. Mt. Everest, you defeated us once, you defeated us twice; you defeated us three times. But Mt. Everest, we shall someday defeat you because you can’t get any bigger and we can.”
John Rose in ‘John’s Sunday Homilies’

Today’s gospel is called the gospel of fire because of the inevitable confrontation it speaks of as part of living the Christian life. Jesus bluntly states the meaning and purpose of his life when he says, “I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were blazing already.” Once touched by Jesus our lives are never the same. He ignites us to live fully; He pushes us into the centre of life so that we are forced to take a stand for or against him. “Do you suppose that I have come to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” These words of Jesus disturb us. In today’s gospel Jesus talks about his mission by using the metaphor of lighting a fire, and he refers to his passion by using the image of a baptism to be received. Both fire and water are ambivalent symbols. Fire can be awesome and it was seen by the Israelites to symbolize the presence of God. It was also terrifying in its power and symbolized its ability to cleanse, divide, destroy and purify, as the Jews experienced during their Exodus. Jesus also says he has a baptism to receive, which brings to mind another ambivalent symbol of God’s activity –water. This water brings life, refreshment, cleansing and healing but also destruction and death. Today’s gospel puts Jesus and what he stood for in sharp perspective. No one who accepts Jesus can be the same. His message would bring a sword, even to people who were closely related to each other.

Fiddler on the Roof
An example of the opposition that faith brings about in a family occurs in the play Fiddler on the Roof. The plot centres around a man named Tevye, the father of a poor Jewish family. He has five daughters but no son. His eldest daughter marries a tailor who was not chosen for her by the traditional matchmaker. After a struggle with his conscience Tevye accepts the marriage. His next daughter marries a college student who has broken with many Jewish traditions. After a struggle with his conscience, Tevye accepts this marriage too. Finally, his third daughter, Chava, marries a non-Jew, a young Russian soldier. When Golde, his wife breaks the news to him, Tevye sings a song. In it he pours out his heart to God. At that moment Chava appears and pleads with Tevye to accept her and her husband. Tevye looks up to heaven and says: “How can I accept them? Can I deny everything I believe in? On the other hand, can I deny my own child?” (But if I deny everything I believe in…) if I try to bend that far, I will break... No Chava.” – When Jesus invited people to follow him, he realized what he was asking. For them it meant leaving father and mother and family for God.
Mark Link in ‘Sunday Homilies’

The Disciplined Wild Man
“Christianity is not a dull religion!” Nothing could be farther from Jesus’ intention. His own life shows this. He preached on street corners as well as in synagogues. He constantly met new and interesting characters (from wealthy tax collectors to pushy prostitutes.) He was faced with every kind of human problem (from intellectual tests to family squabbles about inheritance). He enjoyed banquets and fasted for weeks in the desert. He asked little children to come into his presence just to enjoy them, and at other times he had fierce battles with the Pharisees whom he called “hypocrites and whitened sepulchers.” William McNamara in his book The Human Adventure, has a fascinating chapter which describes the contemplative active Christ – “The Disciplined Wild Man”! What an appropriate title for Jesus. What a fitting description for the Word of God who came to set the world on fire.”
Eugene Lauer

We stand for God?
Some time ago a newspaper columnist Arthur Jones, shared an important moment in his earlier life with his readers. It happened when he was drafted into the Royal Air Force and found himself in military barracks with 30 other men. On the first night he had to make a decision. He had always knelt to say his prayers. Should he continue to kneel now that he was in military service? He squirmed a little and then said to himself: “Why should I change just because people are watching? Am I going to begin my life away from home by letting other people dictate what I should do or not do?” He decided to kneel. By the time he had finished, he became aware that everyone else was aware of him. And when he made the Sign of the Cross, he was aware that everyone else knew he was a Catholic. As it turned out, he was the only Catholic in the barracks. Yet, night after night he knelt. He said that those ten minutes on his knees often led to discussions that lasted for hours. On the last day in boot camp, someone said to him, “You are the finest Christian I’ve ever met.” He replied, “Well, I might be the most public Christian you’ve ever met, but I don’t think I’m the finest. Still, I thank you for what you said.” – That story illustrates one of the points of today’s gospel. Commitment to Jesus means taking a stand on certain things. And sometimes that stand sets us in opposition to other people.
Mark Link in ‘Sunday Homilies’

Jesus came to light a fire
The fourth graders were studying the Pilgrims coming to America and settling in New England. The teacher asked, “Why did the Puritans leave England for America?” A pupil immediately raised his hand and answered, “So that they could carry on their religion in freedom in their own way, and force others to do the same.”
Application: Is our faith afire burning within? Would others know we are Christians by observing us day to day?
Gerard Fuller in ‘Stories for All Seasons’

Families will be divided
Sr. Tina (name changed) was one of the finest students I’ve had. A ‘doctor’ of science, she lectured in a prestigious college in Mumbai before expressing her desire to enter a convent. This broke the heart of her mother who wanted to see her ‘successful’ by worldly standards. Sadly, Tina’s mother refused to speak to her and didn’t even turn up at peak moments of her life like religious profession. This is an example of what Jesus means by prophesying, “From now, families will be divided... Mother against daughter and daughter against mother.”
Francis Gonsalves in ‘Sunday Seeds for Daily Deeds’
 
ILLUSTRATIONS:
1.     Apple and the GPS Glitches:
Apple had to issue a warning recently. Customers who were using a GPS national park hiking trails "app" on their iPhones were warned about some serious "glitches." In several national parks the identified trailhead, the mileages, and the directional guides . . . all were completely off. Several hikers got seriously lost because they trusted downloaded trail information that was fatally flawed. Those hikers had faith in the electronic guidance their hiking "app" had given them. But that faith was rewarded with a "wandering in the wilderness" experience. 
If truth be told, we don't take much "on faith" anymore - or do we? Let's be more precise: We don't take much "on faith" anymore at least from human sources. Anything a politician or a government bureaucrat or a corporate CEO or now even an athlete says and swears is immediately suspicious and suspect. Network media, government warnings and recommendations of professionals like doctors, lawyers, financial advisors, tarot card readers - these days we take them all with a hefty helping of salt, or buckets full of aspirin.   
But as the emergency Apple "app" warning revealed, we do seem to place faith in our electronics. We have more faith in Artificial Intelligence than human intelligence. We input all of our most private information - personal, financial, medical, emotional, and we trust that it is safely stored away. We routinely hit "send" secure in our faith that our message will go swiftly to its appointed destination without interception or invasion. We trust our family trips to a GPS screen and a computer-generated voice that tells us where to go.
What would you do today if your GPS suddenly instructed you to drive your car around the beltway seven times, honking your horn all along the way? What if your GPS insisted this was the only way to reach your desired destination? Would you "have faith" and follow directions?
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2.     Without the Fire the Seeds Will Never Grow  
Stretching south for hundreds of miles from Glacier National Park lay a majestic mixture of valleys, rushing streams, and gargantuan mountains called the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Backpackers have hiked there for decades looking for elk, grizzlies and golden eagles. Fortunately the grizzlies stay up in the high country, but a golden eagle may be spotted and the elusive wolverine may be tracked.  
The Bob Marshall Wilderness hosts some 90,000 packers and hikers each year, most of them in the months of July and August. They must come in either by foot or horseback. No motorized vehicles are allowed. The forests on those rugged mountain slopes are thick with Lodgepole Pine, a tough, hardy tree with cones so thick that only extreme heat can burst forth the seeds. That's where fire comes in. For thousands -- oh, millions of years -- lightning has cracked the big sky out there down to the forests below. (Often the lightning will hit the Douglas Firs, less rugged than the Lodgepole Pines, and a forest fire will begin.) For years, of course, the United States Forest Service fought furiously to put out these fires. More recently, they have adopted a policy of managed fires. They have learned these fires have a purpose. Without them the seeds of the Lodgepole Pines are never released. Without them much of the underbrush and plant life there does not regenerate. The earth needs a fire cast on it or it will die.
Jesus, speaking to Peter, that blustery, Lodgepole Pine kind of a man, said, "Peter, I have a fire to cast over the earth, and how I am constrained until it be kindled!" What did Jesus mean? He knew that Peter, like all of his disciples, was a wilderness that needed fire or he would die. Peter needed the fire of God's Word to keep his heart from freezing over and to keep the passion of his soul from cooling down.
John G. Lynn, Trouble Journey, CSS Publishing
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3.     Like Fire Cast On the Earth  
Martin Luther knew that the ice of human nature had frozen things over in his day, most especially he thought, in the heart and mind of a man named Erasmus. To that Dutch humanist Luther wrote the Word of God always puts the world in a state of tumult because it comes like fire cast on the earth. "For the Word of God comes, whenever it comes, to change and renew the world."  
Nowhere does the fire of God's Word burn off the ice and cause tumult more than in the differences between generations, in the relationships between father and son and mother and daughter. These relationships tend to freeze over into a cool placidity where mother thinks her daughter must be just as she is, or son thinks he must be a carbon copy of dad. Not so, says the gospel. There will not be agreement between mother and daughter or father and son so much as there will be distinction; each will have a proper share of the kingdom of God. God's Word burns off the ice of mutual identification and kindles the fire of proper identity over and over again.
John G. Lynn, Trouble Journey, CSS Publishing.
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4.     Splintered Families
There is evidence of splintered families all around us and among us. A cartoon strip showed a young woman talking to a minister. She said, "John and I are having a terrible time, and we need your advice. We are trying to decide how to divide the furniture, who gets what of the money we've saved and who gets custody of the children."
"Oh," the minister asked, "are you contemplating divorce?"
"Oh, no," she replied. "We are trying to work out our prenuptial agreement."
Carveth Mitchell, The Sign in the Subway, CSS Publishing Company.
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5.     A Weird New Religious Cult  
A sociology professor every year begins his course on "The Family" by reading to his class a letter, from a parent, written to a government official. In the letter the parent complains that his son, once obedient and well-motivated, has become involved with some weird new religious cult. The father complains that the cult has taken over the boy's life, has forced him to forsake all of his old friends, and has turned him against his family.  
After reading the letter, the professor asks the class to speculate what the father is talking about. Almost without exception, the class immediately assumes that the subject of the letter is a child mixed up with the "Moonies," or some other controversial group. After the class puts out all of the possible conclusions they can think of, the professor surprises them by revealing that the letter, was written by a third century father in Rome, the governor of his province, complaining about this weird religious group called "The Christians."  
William H. Beljean, Jr., An Interesting Letter
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6.     Giving Your Life to the Mission  
This past week I have been thinking about people who have been obsessed with mission. Some years ago, Scott Carpenter died. Scott Carpenter was one of the great citizens of the United States of America. He was one of our seven first astronauts. He was truly a great man. Scott Carpenter was a man who had a sense of mission. Let me read what Scott Carpenter had to say, "This project of being an astronaut and going to the moon, gives me the possibility of using all of my capabilities and all of my interests and gifts at once. This is something that I would be willing to give my life for. I think a person is fortunate to have something that you care that much about that you would give your life for. There are risks involved, that's for sure." Then Scott Carpenter went on to say in the following words in a letter to his wife, "My dear, if this comes to a fatal, screaming fiery end for me, I will have three main regrets. I will have lost the opportunity to prepare for my children's life here on this planet. I will miss the pleasure of seeing you and loving you when you are a grandmother. And will have never learned to play the guitar." Signed, Scott. He cared for his wife. He cared for his children. He wanted to play the guitar. But more than that, more than his love for his wife and children, more than his wanting to learn to play the guitar, Scott Carpenter was willing to give his life for the mission to go to the moon.  
What does it mean to give your life for THE mission of Jesus Christ?
Edward F. Markquart, Christ Brings Division
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7.     Making Decisions  
A teenage girl at summer camp was torn between two sets of friends. Some of them were sunbathing on the dock, saying to her "stay with us." But her other friends were in a rowboat saying "no, come with us." There she stood, one foot on the dock, the other foot on the edge of the boat, and the boat was moving. Trying to appease everyone, trying to not decide, she ended up falling into the water; and worse, her hair got wet! 
But I think this is exactly what Jesus is addressing in the gospel lesson today. He is warning us that there will be times when following him will require us to turn away from something else. There will be times in this life when we will be required to say "yes" to one thing, and therefore "no" to the other. And of course, the action we most often take is the same one that girl did on the swimming dock. We try to go in both directions. We try to say "yes" to it all, and we end up falling in between the seams, and being miserable. 
Steven Molin, Flashing Yellow Lights
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8.     Trouble Makers 
 Thank God for those free thinkers throughout Christendom who have brought fire upon the earth, the early Church and the Catholic Church which has prevailed for almost 2000 years holding the banner of Christ.
Martin Luther, who called the church back to a Gospel which emphasized grace rather than works. John Wyclif and William Tyndale, who against the wishes of church leadership produced the Bible in the language of the people. William Wilberforce, against the will of many within the church, fought the evil ravages of the institution of slavery. Hudson Taylor, who dared to adopt the customs and culture of the people to whom he was a missionary. He converted people to Jesus, not to Western culture. He changed the focus of foreign missions. Men like John and Charles Wesley, Charles Finney, and Spurgeon, who called upon their churches to reform. They woke the world with their fiery preaching.
These men were trouble makers. Thinkers. Applecart shakers. Men who muddied the water just like Jesus. Heroes of the faith, we now call the, because they were not afraid of division. They knew Jesus did not come to bring peace but a sword. In other words: Truth. God's truth is like that. It is a double edged sword. What sounds like peace, the peace that Christ gives, really isn't peace as the world would have it. It is peace as God would have it. And what kind of peace is it that God wants? He wants the peace that exist between you and Him when the weight of your sins no longer are a snare and you can run with endurance the race set before you.  
Brett Blair
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9.     What Is Unique About Christianity? 
The story of Jesus sitting and debating the Law with rabbis reminds me of another debate that took place in a comparative religions conference, the wise and the scholarly were in a spirited debate about what is unique about Christianity. Someone suggested what set Christianity apart from other religions was the concept of incarnation, the idea that God became incarnate in human form. But someone quickly said, "Well, actually, other faiths believe that God appears in human form." Another suggestion was offered: what about resurrection? The belief that death is not the final word. That the tomb was found empty. Someone slowly shook his head. Other religions have accounts of people returning from the dead. 
Then, as the story is told, C.S. Lewis walked into the room, tweed jacket, pipe, armful of papers, a little early for his presentation. He sat down and took in the conversation, which had by now evolved into a fierce debate. Finally during a lull, he spoke saying, "what's all this rumpus about?" Everyone turned in his direction. Trying to explain themselves they said, "We're debating what's unique about Christianity." "Oh, that's easy," answered Lewis. “It’s grace.”  
The room fell silent.  
Lewis continued that Christianity uniquely claims God’s love comes free of charge, no strings attached. No other religion makes that claim.  
After a moment someone commented that Lewis had a point, Buddhists, for example, follow an eight-fold path to enlightenment. It’s not a free ride.
Hindus believe in karma, that your actions continually affect the way the world will treat you; that there is nothing that comes to you not set in motion by your actions.
Someone else observed the Jewish code of the law implies God has requirements for people to be acceptable to him and in Islam God is a God of Judgement not a God of love. You live to appease him

At the end of the discussion everyone concluded Lewis had a point.
Only Christianity dares to proclaim God’s love is unconditional. An unconditional love that we call grace.
Christians boldly proclaim that grace really has precious little to do with us, our inner resolve, or our lack of inner resolve.
Rather, grace is all about God and God freely giving to us the gifts of forgiveness, mercy, and love.

10. The Priest with Fire:  Father James Gilhooley
 
A priest was getting on a bus. Somehow his shoe came off and fell into the street. Since he could not retrieve it, he took off the second one. He threw it out the window in the direction of the other one. To a puzzled looking passenger, he said, "The fellow who finds the first shoe now will have a good pair to walk about in."

I have just returned from retreat.  Hopefully I am filled with grace. But certainly I am filled with gossip from my fellow priests. They were filled with information about new assignments from our bishop. The shocker is that a certified firebrand among the brethern has been sent to a very proper and wealthy parish as pastor. The priest in question has been lining up on the side of the poor, disenfranchised, and the oppressed since he was priested a quarter of a century ago. Wherever he goes, fire follows him. He has all the scars, many of them quite glorious and even enviable, that go with such a career.

Everyone at the retreat had an opinion pro and con on the appointment. Most dared not speak them publicly since the bishop himself was present. But the one point on which all agreed is that the parish will become a different creation. Given his track record, the new man will most assuredly bring fire to the parish in question. The fox-hunting set there will never be the same again. These aristocrats may well come to feel that they are among the hunted.

But today's Gospel tells us that fire is precisely what the Teacher brought to the earth. Therefore, can we fault a priest if he himself brings that same torch to a small corner of the Teacher's Church? Do you really think the Christ would fault him especially since he is but following His example? Quite obviously our bishop does not fault him.
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From Fr. Tony Kadavil’s Collection: 

1.     “Be God’s prophets and God’s microphones” (Oscar Romero).

God sends His prophets to give the world His message in every century. Oscar Romero, Blessed Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Martin Luther King, Fannie Lou Hamer, Dom Helder Camara, Maura Clark, Dorothy Kazel, Ita Ford, Jeanne Donovan, and Ella Baker were all twentieth century prophets who had the courage of their Christian convictions to follow Jesus and proclaim his undiluted message which cast fire on earth and caused healthy division in the society as today’s gospel points out.  In 1980, in the midst of a U.S.-funded genocidal war against the so-called leftist rebels in El Salvador, Archbishop Oscar Romero who sided with the poor, exploited farm workers, declared: “If they kill all your priests and the bishop too, each one of you must become God's microphone, each one of you must become a prophet."  "I do not believe in death without resurrection."  "If they kill me, I will be resurrected in the Salvadoran people."  Amid overarching violence, Romero wrote to President Jimmy Carter pleading with him to cease sending military aid to the brutal military regime because, he wrote, "it is being used to repress my people."  The U.S. sent $1.5 million in aid every day for 12 years.  Archbishop Romero’s letter went unheeded.  Two months later he was assassinated.  Ending a long homily addressed to the pro-government land owners and peasants and the military and broadcast throughout the country, his voice rose to breaking, "Brothers, you are from the same people; you kill your fellow peasants . . .  No soldier is obliged to obey an order that is contrary to the will of God.”  There was thunderous applause; he was inviting the army to mutiny.  Then his voice burst, "In the name of God then, in the name of this suffering people I ask you, I beg you, I command you in the name of God: stop the repression."  Oscar Romero gave his last homily on March 24, moments before a sharpshooter felled him at the altar of a hospital chapel.  Reflecting on the day’s scripture, he had said, "One must not love oneself so much, as to avoid getting involved in the risks of life that history demands of us, and those that fend off danger will lose their lives."  In an interview as he was flying to Brazil in May, 2007 Pope Benedict told the reporters, “Romero as a person merits beatification.”  In July 2007, the new Salvadoran conservative government said it would formally request the Vatican to beatify Romero although it will not accept responsibility for his slaying.  Today’s readings remind us that the Church needs prophets like Romero and cautions contemporary prophets that their course will not be easy.  (http://salt.claretianpubs.org/romero/romero.html).  

2.      Apathetic Attitude:  

In 1993, the total attendance at worship services in the United States came to 5.6 billion. The total attendance for all pro-basketball, baseball and football games combined was only 103 million, less than 2 percent of the number who attended worship ["To Verify: Statistics for Christian Communicators," Leadership 15 (Fall 1994), 50).] We complain about a shrinking church membership when the numbers actually point to a shrinking sense of excitement and exuberance for Christ's sake. In the name of sports, those 103 million get stadiums built, get team franchises moved, give local economies a boost and get whole regions of the country stand-up-and-shout excited. In the name of Christ, how much more could 5.6 billion accomplish in this country in the world if they were as "on fire" as the sports fans?

3.     Courage to confront:  

In the 1920s, an English adventurer named Mallory led an expedition to conquer Mount Everest. His first, second and even his third attempt with an experienced team met with failure. Upon his return to England, the few who had survived held a banquet to salute Mallory and those who had perished. As he stood up to speak he looked around he saw picture frames of himself and those who had died. Then he turned his back on the crowd and faced a large picture of Mount Everest looming large like an unbeatable giant. With tears streaming down his face, he spoke to the mountain on behalf of his dead friends. “I speak to you Mt. Everest, in the name of all brave men living, and those yet unborn. Mt. Everest, you defeated us once, you defeated us twice; you defeated us three times. But Mt. Everest, we shall someday defeat you, because you can’t get any bigger, but we can.” Today’s scripture challenges us to confront the world with prophetic courage of our Christian convictions (John Rose in John’s Sunday Homilies).