Homily  20th Sunday of Year C 2016: Fr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo· Jer 38:4-6, 8-10;
· Ps 40:2,3,4,18;
· Heb 12:1-4
· Luke12: 49-53
Courage and Fortitude in Our Christian JourneysFire, 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 highlights the central theme of today's scripture readings; that we should be courageous and prophetic in our Christian callings. Taken literally, these words may sound worrisome and confusing to some. How can Jesus the Prince of Peace (Matthew 5.9) says, he came not to establish peace, but division? But when we take a closer look it metaphorically highlights the fire of the cross, the fire of fortitude, the mission of Christ and his judgment, that Christianity was never going to be bed or roses or a bed of comfort, even for the status quo. No! He came to challenge the status quo; the diseases, the selfishness, the afflictions of the poor. He came to bring fire on earth. The fire we saw in the ministries of Blessed Oscar Romero of El Salvador, who died for the marginalized. The Fire we saw in the Blessed Mother Teresa, who cared for the poor. The fire we saw in Saint John Paul II, who forgave his would be assassin. The fire we saw in Martin Luther King Jr, who preferred peace to violence. The fire we are seeing today in Pope Francis.
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” those who may have offended us. The fire to turn the other cheek, the fire to forgive, especially, in this Year of Mercy.
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 the resurrection after death! John baptized with water, but Jesus baptized with the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11). 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 even on the Sabbath. 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 of the Letter to the Hebrews, the 2nd reading. 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 or the time of Saint Paul. 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 the 1st reading.
In doing the unpopular prophetic work of denouncing sin and announcing judgment in the late pre-exilic period, Jeremiah met with fierce opposition. It was during this period that Babylon, the reigning empire demanded tributes from smaller nations, including Judah. While the princes and other palace prophets urged King Zedekiah, to seek military help from Egypt against Babylon, Jeremiah through God’s inspiration counseled otherwise, and predicted the fall of Jerusalem, which came to be in 587 BC. Because of his prediction he was accused of treason, punished, thrown into a dirty pit only to be rescued by Ebed- Melech, the servant of the King. This was the Lord’s doing as echoed in today’s Psalm 40. The Lord drew Jeremiah out from the pit of destruction
Jeremiah, like Christ was on fire! We are called to be on fire; to have fire of love and courage in our hearts. The fire of obedience and humility. In those moments when we face 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 (Heb 12:1-4). What about several saints and our forefathers and mothers in faith, those who died for the faith? Oscar Romero mentioned earlier. What about that French Priests killed by Isis while celebrating Mass. 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!!!