TWENTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
The Fire of Love Burns to Save the World,
Endure Disunity Patiently in order to Create Unity
First Reading (Jer 38: 4-6, 8-10): The Prophet Jeremiah was persecuted
Second Reading (Heb 12: 1-4): We should rely on Christ to oppose sin
Gospel (Lk 12L 49 –53): Jesus is the object of human beings’ opposition
-“Death by boiling alive would be like sweetmeat. Just what I wish for but am denied.” (1)
-“For ten years my parents cannot call me their son, my wife cannot call me her husband; my brothers cannot call me their brother, my friends cannot call me their friend.” (2)
I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on, five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three.” (Lk 12: 49-52)
All great people have a kind of “fire” deep within their hearts, a kind of immeasurable compassion, an unquenchable affection, a hope that cannot be completely fulfilled, a consuming fire that can never be extinguished. Their affection may be directed to Life itself, or to all of humanity, or country or nation. Or perhaps they deeply love an ideal, their work, friends, family, church, their faith.
This 'fire' is a combination of affection and love, and this great love includes an attitude of deep, warm, rousing passion. It is the affection described by Ou Yang Xiu in his poem, “Sometimes there are 'fools' for passion and if there can be passion in Heaven, for certain it will grow old because of it.”
The First Epistle of St. John says, “God is love.” God’s church is a church of love, a community that loves God and loves humanity. It is a church filled with the fire of love and deep affection. So its founder, Christ, cannot be other than a God filled with the fire of love and affection, and a human being filled with the same fire of love and affection.
This explains Jesus' words, “I came to bring fire to the earth and how I wish it were already kindled!” Here, 'wish' is a strong hope, an intense longing as during a drought one longs for water, or an exhausted traveler longs for the warmth and safety of home. Such is the depth and warmth of this love and affection.
What Jesus left us is his own heart's fire and what it enkindles are the cold hearts of us human beings. He uses the fire of his own life, adding to it the fire he has lighted in the Church, to warm the heartless world and drive away its coldness. He burns away the grime of the earth, sin and separation, coldness and indifference, the lack of motivation and mediocrity.
Jesus not only possesses such fire, he is eager to light it: “What stress I am under until it is completed!” Jesus early knew the task he must accomplish, how he must sacrifice himself for humankind. He would sacrifice himself on the altar of love, offer his entire life in a baptism of blood. This was not a romantic baptism, he feared what was to come: “His sweat became like great drops of blood” (Lk 22:44). Yet he longed for it to come!. Was this not like Wen Tian Xiang who looked on death as a release and said, “Death by boiling alive would be like sweetmeat. Just what I wish for but am denied.” (1)
It truly is wonderful that a person can long for so much distress and calamity for the sake of love, the fire that is within one's heart!
There was a young mother who chose natural childbirth for her first child, refusing a 'painless delivery.' She said that if she experienced the excruciating pain of childbirth, she would love the child she herself had brought forth all the more. Actually she was very afraid of pain and would cry at the slightest cut. But for the sake of her child she was willing to suffer anything. This is an example of the saying above as applied to family bonding, “Death by boiling alive would be like sweetmeat, just what I wish for but am denied.”(1)
All those who have high ideals will meet with strong opposition, just as Jesus' all-encompassing love and high ideals caused such great opposition and persecution. In the end his life became a sign of contradiction. That was what Simeon had prophesized long before, at the time Jesus was presented in the temple.
Yet Jesus did not really bring about the contradiction, it was not of his creation. Nor did he wish for such divisions among human beings. He is the one who is “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Is 9:5) When he was born, the angels loudly sang for him, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom God favours! (Lk 2:14)
Yet, in a world without ideals, discord certainly will be the fate of those who have ideals. And inevitably their actions will result in disunity.
Also, sometimes in pursuit of one's ideals one must endure the pain of division. In the Ming Dynasty the patriotic general Yuan Chong Huan fought for a long time to protect his country's borders. He once sighed and said, “For ten years my parents cannot call me their son, my wife cannot call me her husband, my brothers cannot call me their brother, my friends cannot call me their friend.” (2) For the sake of his country and nation, Yuan Chong Huan had no time to pay filial respect to his parents, nor demonstrate his love and care for his wife and children. He could not help but mock himself, saying he was like a 'desperado' within the borders of the Ming empire. This was the price he paid for an ideal!
Of course, we must be on our guard, because divisions do not necessarily stem from 'ideals.' Sometimes we may experience discord for the sake of Jesus and sometimes we use disunity in the name of Jesus.
Let us all repent of the disunity that exists among humankind. Let us not be afraid to undergo persecution or the pain of division for the sake of Christ. But we must be careful not to persecute others in the name of Christ. And in a world already so full of discord, let us not create even further division.