YEAR C: HOMILY FOR THE 20TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
HOMILY THEME: The Fire and Division Jesus Brings
BY: Fr. Evaristus Abu
HOMILY: Read Joshua 24:14-29, Psalm 16 and Matthew 19:13-15.
“Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” (Luke 12:51).
In today’s Gospel passage, we hear Jesus talking about casting fire upon the earth and bringing division in family life instead of peace. The key to understanding our Gospel passage today and its lessons is to note that it begins with verse 49 of the same Luke Chapter 12 which we have been reading for three Sundays now. Recall that two Sundays ago, a young man interrupted Jesus asking Him to help speak to his brother to divide their late father’s inheritance. Jesus did not oblige the man instead what follows was a direct sermon on material riches vis-a-viz eternal life.
Jesus told the story of a rich man whose lands yielded so much, but ended up being a fool because of his failure to consider God by showing kindness to the poor. We should seek the things that are above trusting that we serve a God who knows what we need and will not give His children snake when they ask for fish. Last Sunday, Jesus tells us to sell our possessions and give to the poor so that we can have riches in heaven where moth and rust cannot affect. Just as heaven is a reward for those who prepare for it, hell and purgatory await those who fail to live accordingly based on the gravity of their offences.
Today, Jesus is concluding His sermon to the young man who wanted Him to settle a family matter. “Do you think I have come to give peace on earth?” In other words, “Do you think I have come for such trivial matters? No! In fact, I have come to cast fire on the earth, I have come to bring division. So, what is Jesus teaching us today?
Lesson One: Do not Allow Family Come between You and God.
What would you do if as a young beautiful girl, your father is asking you to offer your body to his business partner so as to secure a million-dollar deal? As a Christian, how would you respond if your uncles are asking you to perform certain rituals to idols in the village during a funeral in the name of tradition? What would you do if as a young girl hoping to keep yourself till your wedding night, and the man you love insists you must be pregnant before he can propose to you? Would you leave your husband if you discover he is a kidnapper or a cultist who kills people for money rituals?
Dear friends, the truth is that if we are to be true Christians, we cannot avoid a rift with some or even all of our family members. We cannot serve both God and mammon. Our penny catechism puts it beautifully: Question: “Are we always to obey our parents?” Answer: “We are to obey our parents always EXCEPT in anything that is sinful.” There is no way we would disobey our parents (family members) and still be at peace with them. That is why Jesus says He has not come to bring peace.
In fact, following Jesus demands “letting the dead to bury their own dead.” This was the response Jesus gave to a man who wanted to go and bury his father first before following him. To another one who wanted to first bid farewell to his family members, Jesus warned him, “No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for God’s kingdom”(Luke 9:58-62).
Jesus is not against family members, rather He wants us to place a higher value on attaining heaven. It is better to be disowned and hated by your own family members than consent to evil just to please them. You profit nothing if you own the whole world only to spend eternity in hell fire.
Lesson Two: Following Christ Demands Huge Sacrifices.
Anyone who is not ready to suffer cannot be a good Christian. Anyone who tries to please everyone cannot be a truthful and righteous person. Our first reading today tells of the story of Jeremiah who like the other prophets suffered greatly in the hands of his enemies for speaking the truth as commanded by God. Thanks to Ebed-melech who spoke on his behalf to the king, Jeremiah would have died of hunger in that cistern. This again points to what Jesus is saying in today’s Gospel. If we are going to be true Christians, we must be prepared for the sufferings that would come to us in the form of rejection from our own family members.
According to St. Ambrose, when Jesus says: “I came to send fire on earth,” it does not mean that “He is the Consumer of good men, but the Author of good will, who purifies the golden vessels of the Lord’s house, but burns up the straw and stubble.” This fire that Jesus brings is what St. Peter was talking about when he said: “In this, you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6-7).
Lesson Three: Lay Aside Every Yoke of Sin; Run the Race Set Before us.
As Jesus will say: “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than your whole body go into hell” (Matthew 5:29-30). This is exactly what the book of Hebrews is teaching us in today’s second reading. It says we must cast away every weight, and every sin that clings to us so that we can run freely with perseverance in the race to heaven looking to Jesus as our pioneer and perfecter of our faith.
In Matthew 16, we saw how Jesus made Peter the head of the church at Caesarea Philippi. Satan knowing that Peter had become very close to Jesus decided to tempt Jesus through Peter. Jesus recognized Satan’s voice in Peter and said to him, “Get behind me Satan.” The truth is that most of our temptations to sin come from our family members – those related to us by blood, those living with us in the same house, those who are very close to us and those we have come to take as our own family due to the level of trust and cordiality built over the years. Notice that it is very difficult to refuse anything from such persons; they become a weight (a load or burden) that clings very closely to us preventing us from running the race of righteousness and holiness.
The book of Hebrews says: “Consider him who endured such hostility against himself… in your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” I do wonder at people who come to confession and blame all their sins on others especially their family members. They admit their guilt, but they talk as if they had no choice. Dear brothers and sisters, you have a choice. No temptation is beyond your power. If you keep falling, it is not because of anyone close to you, it is because you have given up the struggle.
It may be painful to cut off a sinful relationship or come out of a house of spiritual bondage, but this is exactly what it means to shed your blood in resistance to sin. For the young man who wanted Jesus to divide property for him, letting go of his inheritance may be painful, but this is exactly what it meant to shed his blood so as not to be caught in the web of sin.
Being a Christian demands a radical approach to God. As much as family is such an important human bond, serving God leaves no room for compromise. We cannot avoid the divisions that must come or the hatred of others in our determination to seek first God’s kingdom. Like Jeremiah, we shall surely face persecution to purify us like gold passing through fire. (Meaning that God will never allow us to suffer for nothing). Apart from the natural rifts that would occur, the book of Hebrews says we must be willing to cut off certain persons who become weights clinging to us and preventing us from serving God.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, grant that I may love you in all things and above all things so as to attain your promises which surpass every human desire, Amen.
Be Happy. Live Positive. Have Faith. It is well with you. God bless you. (20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. Bible Study: Jeremiah 38:4-6.8-10, Psalm 40, Hebrews 12:1-4 and Luke 12:49-53).