20th Sunday in Ordinary Time C

Every year when we go on vacation, my friend Fr. Tim and I hear the Gospel and think if we were glad or sad that we did not have to preach.  This Gospel makes me feel like I wish I had left yesterday and not today.  (Actually, this week left me feeling I wish I had become vicar general next week and not this one.)

It is jarring to hear Jesus say, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!”  Or “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division.”  And yes, and although the other fifteen times he speaks of peace in the Gospels, he claims to bring peace, it makes it all the more significant when he does not.  It reminds us of the remarkable capacity of Jesus to capture all our feelings for there are times when we righteously do not concede the peace or give in for the sake of unity.  There are times to stand for something or over and against something.

For Jesus, this is that time.  In Lukes’s Gospel, we are on the road to Jerusalem, and already the cross not yet erected on Calvary is casting its shadow.  He knows this will be a turning point in human history.  After the cross, the baptism in which he must be baptized, people will have to decide if that was just the ugly death of a nobody or the redemptive death of the savior.  It simply cannot be both.  It is a decision point for every person, a “for or against” moment; the fire that will shape the world.

Our Church is on fire.  Tis week we are reminded again of the terrible price of abuse, when the culture of preserving power and status appeared to be more important than justice and compassion.  And while many of these claims date back from forty to seventy years ago, and we must remember that everyone under civil and canon law is presumed innocent until proven guilty, it is a testament of how deep the hurt lingers and how tragic are the consequences.  It is call for us to be compassionate healers to all those wounded by abuse both inside and outside our Church.

Jesus speaks of fire as a purification.  Our Church must undergo a purification.  A purifying fire strips away everything until all that is left is the pure element.  The dross disappears for the pure gold to emerge.  What if the Church lost everything but the Eucharist, the word of God, the community and service to our brothers and sisters?  Would that be all bad?  Isn’t that what we started with?

Jesus speaks of a time when households are divided.  For how many of us is that true?  Mine is.  People ask us why we stay and increasingly our answers are more difficult to articulate.  Our answer comes from a deep sense of belonging and love.  It is tied up in what we feel about what we receive from the table and from this sacred word.  It is how we feel about each other and what binds us together.  Jesus refers to fire one other way besides purification – as the Holy Spirit.  It the Spirit of reconciliation, peace, healing and hope.  As each person must entrust themselves to the Holy Spirit, so must our Church travel by the lights of the Hoy Spirit and nothing else.

About a year ago, I started to thank people who are having their children baptized and couples getting married in the church for choosing us, for sticking with this bruised and beautiful Church that still has so much to give and can still bring peace to our struggling world.  But I have yet to thank you.  Thank you for your faithfulness.  Thank you for the hope you represent.  Thank you holding these values and your commitment to this truth.   Thank you for sustaining me with your love and support.  You are the reason this gets better.  You are the sign of the new Church that must emerge.  Thank you for being the face of Christ.

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