Homily 20th Sunday of Year C: Fr Michael U Udoekpo
Reading: Jer 38:4-6, 8-10; Ps 40:2,3,4,18; Heb 12:1-4 and Luke!12: 49-53
Fortitude in Our Christian Journeys
Fire, Fire, Fire!!!!!!!!!!!!
“I have come to set the earth on fire and how I wish it were already blazing… There is baptism with which I must be baptized. I have come not to establish peace, but rather division” (Luke 12:49-50).
These words of Jesus taken literally may sound worrisome and confusing. But when we take a closer look it highlights the fire of the cross, the fire of fortitude, the mission of Christ and his judgment. It means doing things in the manner of Christ. Of course “fire” in the ancient culture is a symbolism of judgment, and baptism “baptizein” refers metaphorically to Jesus courageous and prophetic embrace and full submerging in his mission of true peace and justice, different from the worldly peace. It includes the purpose of Christ, his reaching out to others in a way that has never been done before.
Christ came to do things differently and courageously. Recall as a young boy after he had visited the synagogue with the parents, instead of walking back home like other families, Jesus stayed back in the temple. The fire of dialoguing with temple officials! In the ancient days it was tooth for tooth, but Jesus came with a new teaching that says “turn the other cheek, and forgive.” The fire to turn the other cheek, the fire to forgive! The elders used more than 40 years to build the temple, but Jesus says, “He will destroy it and rebuild it in three days.” The fire of rebuilding an ancient old temple in three days! John baptized with water, but Jesus baptized with water the Holy Spirit. The fire of the Holy Spirit! Sinners were despised, but Jesus chose to eat with them. The fire of eating with sinners! He shared water with the Samaritan woman. The fire of a Jewish/Rabbi to reach out to the Samaritan woman! He raised Lazarus from the death. He commanded the blind to see, and cured the lepers. The fire to heal! The fire of God's healing love!! He taught Pilate the true meaning of Truth. The fire of Truth!! He came up with a new form of sacrifice, peace, and service. The fire of service! He washed the feet of his disciples and not the opposite. No more animal sacrifices, but love, communion, sharing, evangelization, spreading the Good news, and personal self- emptying on the cross, which we reenact at every Eucharistic celebration. The fire of Evangelization!!!
This must be disturbing and challenging to families, fathers, mothers, children, sons, daughters, son-in laws and daughter-mother- in-laws of the new emerging Christian community, from older Judaism. You can imagine what the advent of Christianity, a new religion, meant for the Africans hundreds of years ago. Or for people of other religion. How do we abandon one religion or faith to another? What about from Judaism to Christianity like in the case of Christ's time. These changes of doing things in the way of Christ, comes with a price. It is the type of suffering-price that every Israel prophets like Jeremiah paid.
In doing the unpopular prophetic work of denouncing sin and announcing judgment in the late pre-exilic period, Jeremiah met with fierce opposition. He was opposed, resisted and persecuted. Jeremiah was place in stocks at the cost of his ministry (Jer 20:1-2). He was put on trial by priest who demanded his death because he preached in the temple ( Jer 26:10-11). Because he preached to Judah, “Thus says the Lord, “If you will not listen to me, to walk in my law that I have set before you, and to heed the words of my servants the prophets whom I send to you…. Then I will make the house of Israel like Shiloh, and I will make this city a curse for all the nations of the earth” (Jer 26:4-11). In fact, Jeremiah and his companion, Baruch was banished from the Temple (Jer 36). He was arrested, beaten and imprisoned (Jer 37:12-16). As if these were not enough he was even sized and thrown into a muddy pit to die, and only to be rescued by Eved-melech (servant of the king) by the order of King Zedekiah. For Jeremiah this was the Lord’s doing, and Psalm 40 reflects the role of God whenever we call upon him from the pits of our troubles:
“I have waited, waited for the Lord, and he stooped toward me. The Lord heard my cry. He drew me out of the pit of destruction, out of the mud of the swamp, he set my feet upon a crag; he made firm my steps…though I am afflicted and poor, you are my help and my deliverer.”
In those moments when we face our trials (hunger, poverty, lack of jobs, illnesses, family difficulties and disagreement in religious matters, disappointed by our friends, children, relatives, spouses or loss of our loved ones, or even persecuted, because you are a Christian, etc) we have to think and act like Jeremiah and imitate Jesus. We have to think of those heroes of faith and clouds of witnesses of today’s second reading, the Letter to the Hebrew (Heb 12:1-4). What about several saints and our forefathers and mothers in faith, those who died for the faith? This is courage. This is fortitude. We need this fortitude more than ever, especially in our times. We need that moral virtue which enables us to be firm in moments of trials and temptations of sins and of false peace. We need it in the face of injustices and terrorism. We need it in those moments when our Christian faith is threatened. Fire, Fire, Fire! I have come to bring fire on earth how I wish it was already burning !!!