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20th Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 14, 2016

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There is an old “Peanuts” cartoon strip in which Linus and his sister Lucy are engaged in a horrible argument.  It’s about to become a knock-down, drag-out fight when Charlie Brown steps in and says, “The two of you can’t keep doing this.  Lucy, you’re going to hit Linus.  Then he’ll hit you.  Then you’ll hit him back.  This is going to go on for the rest of your lives.  You’ve got to start being a loving brother and sister.”  Lucy looks at Charlie Brown for a few seconds, clenches her fist and decks him!  She turns to Linus and says, “I had to do that.  He was making too much sense.”
As Charlie Brown learned, embracing prophetic work can be costly.  The readings give us something of a job description for being a disciple of Christ and part of the difficulties of following our Lord and serving our God.  Discord, suffering, and being unpopular are among the difficulties.  Early followers of Jesus faced social exile, including family ostracism or disownment.  Recall the story of the healing of the man born blind in John’s Gospel, 9th chapter.  His parents would not even stand up for their son for fear of being put out of the synagogue.  Recall too how early Christians were put to death for their faith; and that at times, family members failed to have the courage to join them.  Today, this type of pain is most intensely seen when people leave the faith of their families to join another denomination or faith or when people quit practicing their faith. 
The first reading from the prophet Jeremiah further demonstrates just how unpopular doing God’s will can be.  He ends up in mud in a well almost to the point of dying there.  And why?  Because he prophesied the consequences of Judah’s sins and how they related to subjugation to Babylon.  This was an incomplete distortion of his message, but all the same, one that was not well-received.

Jesus spoke of the fire he wanted to ignite and to set the world ablaze.  In the Magnificat, Pope Benedict XVI writes that the fire is Christ’s own Passion of love, “a fire that is to be handed on.  Whoever comes close to him must be prepared to be burned.  This is a fire that makes things bright and pure and free and grand.  Being a Christian, then, is daring to entrust oneself to this burning fire.”  The following line in the Gospel makes this fire even more clear – Jesus baptism of blood poured out for us on the cross.  Jesus wants to set the world afire with the love of God.  First he had to embrace his baptism to demonstrate God’s love for us. When our hearts are afire with God’s love, he purifies us and gives us the grace to do loving things. 

But then we have the next verses I briefly touched one that are so difficult to understand where Jesus said that he did not come to establish peace but familial divisions.  My psychologist is not Catholic, but is a deeply spiritual Christian.  He shared with me when I began experiencing very painful actions from family members, that this passage came to mind and that he had the hardest time for years understanding what Jesus meant.  He gave me a copy of a CD he had of a preacher talking about this passage in such a way that it made sense to him.  He held his finger and thumb apart from each other and said his finger above his thumb was Jesus for example and his thumb below was him.  The space in between was being in a good relationship with Him.  But if family members are hurting us and causing us to sin and distancing us from Christ, then it is time to distance ourselves from them.  For example, this past Wednesday as I was battling a migraine and trying to rest, I thought about writing my Mom a horribly mean letter because of the pain she caused me, to cause her pain.  Those thoughts only made my migraine worse and brought feelings of discord and pain.  I prayed for Archangel Michael to protect me from Satan and his desires, and then prayed that with the help of God’s grace, I forgive Mom’s debts (of the things she did to hurt me, based of Fr. Mike Schmidts You Tube Video on Forgiveness by Ascension Press).  I felt a great peace come over me, and could finally take a nap, and my migraine medicine kicked in a little better.  I think that is what Jesus is talking about:  when members of our family hurt us so deeply that we want to return hurt for hurt and thus sin and thus distance ourselves from Jesus and separate ourselves from His love and mercy, then we need really to distance ourselves from that or those family members who caused the deep wounds while praying for the grace and working on forgiving them – those things that people on fire with the love of God will do. 

So, on one hand we have the daunting cost of following our Lord and how it can be overwhelming.  On the other hand, we have the love and support of community to work out this call.  Our Second reading speaks to two hopes.  First, when we sin, we sometimes we get discouraged and give up.  Then Satan wins two battles – leading us to sin and keeping us away from the grace we need! Do not grow weary and lose heart.  Get up when you fall; ask for forgiveness and keep on going! Go to confession – the sacrament of God’s forgiveness.  Secondly, we hear the author of that letter to the Hebrews remind that community that they are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses… keeping their eyes fixed on the joy of the kingdom… acknowledging the struggle with sin and temptation.  These readings also put into perspective what a community of faith should be.  I’d like to think that we are a hospital for sinners rather than a country club of judgmental hypocrites!  Put more kindly, we are here to be instruments of God’s healing and love for each other and for our world.