(Saint Bernardine’s Church, Regents Park: Saturday 6pm; Sunday 7.30am & 9am)
17/18 August 2013
[Readings: Jer 38:4-6, 8-10; Ps 39; Heb 12:1-4; Lk 12:49-53]
Perhaps when we hear Jesus say that he didn’t come to bring peace on earth, but rather division, we might think we’ve mis-heard. But, to reinforce the point, Our Lord goes on to say that from now on, a household of five will be divided three against two, two against three; father will be divided against the son, son against father, and so on.
In more recent times, there has been a tendency to emphasize an image of God that is “nice.” Characteristics of God like His kindness, patience, and mercy, have been emphasized – characteristics which of course are true. This has even gone so far that some people have wrongly suggested that there is the God of the Old Testament, who is fearsome, mighty, angry and even jealous, and the God of the New Testament who is goodness and light. But there is only one God. So how are we to deal with these different attributes of God that we see? How are we to interpret Jesus’ words that he has come to bring fire to the earth, and division not peace?
Let’s think of a person who is in a particularly bad mood for some reason. Who’s the last person they’re going to want to be around? Not another grouchy person: because misery loves company. But the grouchy person is going to detest someone who is cheerful and smiling. In fact, the cheerful person will appear obnoxious and annoying to the grouch. Now, is the cheerful person objectively obnoxious and annoying? Probably not, but that’s how the grouch is going to perceive them.
Or let’s think of someone who has been trapped in a cave for some time. What are they going to hate the most when they eventually get out? The light. After being in the dark, the light will appear even as torture to them.
When we speak of the sun, some days we’ll say the sun is strong and bright. And then other days, it might be weak; it could be struggling to shine through the clouds. Of course, the sun hasn’t changed at all … it’s just doing its thing out there … but how we perceive the sun changes, and the way it shines on us is affected by the orbit of the planet, clouds and pollution.
A final image. Think of someone who plays golf, and then one day a professional sees them play and ventures to make some suggestions about how to improve the way they play. Now those suggestions might be received well, but they might also be seen as unwanted criticism, and might even injure the pride of the player.
God is love, through and through. God’s essence is love. God doesn’t change. It is the one God who made the world, who called a people to Himself, who led them out of slavery, who punished their offences, who sent prophets to recall His people to himself, who became flesh, living among people, and who died on the cross and rose again. Same God – but our experience of this one God differs.
Our world is veiled in sin. We are marked by original sin, compounded by our own personal sins. And so God’s love to us, might at times be like the blinding light to someone coming out of the dark, not pleasant at all. When we hear the truth it might actually be offensive to our ears because we’re so used to something else. Our experience of God’s love might be like our hit and miss experience with the sun: not because God’s love changes, but because things block our experience of that love. God’s love might be like the unwelcome advice we receive that dents our pride when we thought we had everything together. Jesus brings division because sometimes we’ve deluded and deceived ourselves: we’ve swallowed half-truths or even falsehoods.
The fire that Jesus wants to cast on the earth is a fire that burns away everything that separates us from God; everything that blocks our full experience of God’s love. As the letter to the Hebrews states, we “should throw off everything that hinders us, especially the sin that clings so easily …”
All this is achieved in the nitty gritty of our lives. Its intensely personal. As we “throw off everything that hinders us, especially sin” we’re being called to make difficult decisions; to swim against the tide of popular opinion; to risk looking foolish or out-of-step with our contemporaries. How hard it is for a young person who doesn’t want to buy into a culture that cheapens and trivializes sex. How hard it can be for married couples to remain open to life and the children God wants to send them. How hard it can be to leave behind ways of living that we know are wrong and even sinful. And yet it is the love of God that calls us … and depending on what state we’re in, that insistent love will appear to us in various ways … as challenging, demanding, upsetting … but it’s always love.
Jeremiah had a tough time doing the Lord’s work: in a nutshell, they wanted to kill him, and they tried. Yet we could well imagine him making today’s psalm his own. We can make it our own as we feel the call of God’s love in our hearts to come closer to God, as we feel the fire of Christ burning away everything in us that separates us from God, as we respond to God’s grace and throw off everything that hinders us, especially the sin that clings so easily.
I waited, I waited for the Lord and he stooped down to me;
he heard my cry.
He drew me from the deadly pit, from the miry clay.
He set my feet upon a rock and made my footsteps firm.
He put a new song into my mouth, praise of our God. …
As for me, wretched and poor, the Lord thinks of me.
You are my rescuer, my help, O God, do not delay.
This beginning of this homily contains material from Fr Robert Barron’s homily: http://www.wordonfire.org/WOF-Radio/Sermons/Sermon-Archive-for-2013/Sermon-658-I-Have-Come-to-Cast-a-Fire-Upon.aspx