20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 18, 2019
Sr. Phyllis Jaszkowiak
Jesus comes to cast fire on the earth – the fire the Spirit of God. Our God is a consuming blaze of all that is good and right and just. This fire burns away all that is not God. Divine fire always demands a transformation and response.
When we were baptized we received the Spirit, the fire of God. Our baptism calls us to let the Spirit of God, the flame of God, loose in our world. Sr. Barbara Reid says, “Baptism brings both refreshment and joy from being washed of sin, as well as an induction into a difficult lifelong burning away of anything within that stands opposed to the gospel.” Mary McGlone echoes with, “Following Jesus will lead us into the life-death-resurrection mystery of baptism in Jesus’ name.”
There is a story from the Desert Fathers. “Abbot Lot came to Abbot Joseph and said: Father, according as I am able, I keep my little rule, and my little fast, my prayer, meditation and contemplative silence, and according as I am able, I strive to cleanse my heart of thoughts: now what more should I do? The elder rose up in reply and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire. He said: Why not be totally changed into fire?”
This is what Jesus asks today. Why not be totally changed into fire? This fire is coming to know the God within, personally, and then living and acting so that God’s Will for the world will come about. This takes courage, a commitment to growth, time for prayer – together and alone in silence. It takes an openness of heart and mind to let God speak to us so we might hear. It takes courage to begin to act on this message of God for our world today.
However, once we begin to speak, there is always pushback. “The resisters are not eager for the burning away of their comforts and privileges [and ways of thinking] as Jesus’ way of transformation demands.” Sr. Barbara Reid.
Jeremiah, the prophet, didn’t want to be God’s spokesperson. He wanted to keep quiet. Although at one point he said, “I grow weary holding it [God’s Word] in. I cannot be silent, I have to speak.” In today’s first reading we hear the story of what happened to him as he spoke against the king and what was happening in his country. He was thrown into a cistern and sank into the mud and muck, left to die. Not a pleasant thing. Jesus, in the gospel today knows what is ahead of him, “There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!”
“The way toward genuine peace is not a gentle, easy road. It is a path that entails struggle. Injustice does not die without heavy resistance.” Sr. Barbara Reid. “The peace that Christ offers does not affirm or support the status quo.” Fr. Michael Simone, SJ.
Gun control is one issue that does not affirm or support the status quo. We need gun control and a ban of all types of assault weapons. Since money and power are involved there is great resistance to any kind of sensible gun control. Our response is to let God’s fire work in us so we can get rid of assault guns of any type. It will take resistance, strength, courage over the long haul, and faith in the goodness of God’s fire to rid our country of assault weapons and thus the mass shootings.
“Jesus warns his followers not to be taken by surprise if his message provokes conflict and divisions,” states Sr. Barbara Reid. This division creeps even into the family. I remember when I was younger, at a family gathering, someone mentioned women being priests. I said, ”I would be one if I could.” My mother’s reaction surprised me. She said, “Phyllis, don’t be radical.” It took me back since I didn’t consider that radical at all. A bit of division in the family.
So let us continue on the road Christ has asked us to follow, knowing the joys and the struggles. Fr. Michael Simone says, “Every heart turned to Christ brings a little more of the firery divine presence into the world.” We might never be thrown into a cistern of mud and muck, and begin to sink. It will take our best efforts to resist peacefully and with justice those who do not follow God’s path.
Let us then continue to live out our baptism when we received the Spirit, the fire of God. Let us continue to speak and act even knowing the divisions it may cause.
The question remains: “Why not be totally changed into fire?”