Sunday, Aug. 18, is the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C). Mass readings: Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10; Psalm 40:2-4, 18; Hebrews 12:1-4; Luke 12:49-53.
The first reading from the Book of Jeremiah recounts the story of the prophet running afoul of the leading men of Judah. In a difficult situation militarily, they were offended by Jeremiah’s fidelity to the Lord’s message that Jerusalem would be taken by Babylon. Fearing that this prophecy would demoralize the troops, they chose to get rid of him by lowering him into a cistern. Jeremiah, we are told, sitting at the bottom, “sank into the mud.”
The story raises the theme for today’s readings, namely being faithful to the truth even when it seems imprudent. There is little doubt that Jeremiah’s prophecy about the fall of Jerusalem did demoralize his people. We might be sympathetic to the leading men of Judah who, in the name of the welfare of their people, sought to silence God’s man who was preaching doom and gloom. What does one do, then, when the truth presented by God through his prophets or his Church becomes an obstacle to our own vision?
Our Lord answers this question in St. Luke’s Gospel, as he says that he has “come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” The language is passionate. Jesus Christ is not a disinterested bystander to world events. He has specific desires that he will pursue, desires which will at times stand against our best-laid plans. And in case that is unclear, Jesus says that he has not “come to establish peace on earth,” “but rather division.” “Father will be divided against his son … a mother against her daughter.” The truth divides, and we will have to proclaim it despite its seeming imprudence in the eyes of others.
Now, some may confuse these passionate words of our Savior as license to create division for division’s sake. Fractures in our families may not always be signs of our Jeremiah-like fidelity to the truth but of our well-meaning but misguided efforts to be right. That is why two things need to be kept in mind.
First, we must remember that the flame about which Jesus speaks is the very love of God. Our Lord’s invitation is to love in truth as radically as he did. Second, after expressing his desire for a world ablaze, Jesus refers to his suffering and death: “There is a baptism with which I must be baptized.” He is in “anguish” until he can show his love for us unto death. The true test for those faithful to the Lord, then, is our willingness to die to ourselves out of love for others.
What does this look like? The second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” The saints are the constant models of what choosing the truth in love looks like. With their example before us, we who “have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood” must continue in our “struggle against sin.” In our sacrifices we aid Our Lord in setting the world on fire with his divine love, for in them we are transformed ourselves and can sing with the Psalmist “a new song ... a hymn to our God” (40:4).
Omar Gutierrez is a permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of Omaha, Nebraska.
He is the president and co-founder of the Evangelium Institute.