20th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
This is NOT the Comfortable Middle-Class Jesus of the modern Church. The mild-mannered Jesus of our therapeutic culture. The peace-nik-hipster Jesus of the fashionable fringe. The tolerant, diversity-loving, social worker who never judges, never demands. Nope. The Jesus we hear tonight is the Jesus born and bred into an ancient prophetic tradition that requires its hearers to take sides, to make choices, to hunker down and endure the consequences of those choices. Come what may. There's no parsing-away his words here so that we can re-establish our image of a bland Messiah who only wants us to be nice to one another. He says what he says, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” This is the part of the homily where most preachers will tell you what he Really Means here. The part where they will bleach out all the color, wring out all the vigor, and iron away any inconvenient wrinkles lest you experience a single moment of discomfort or challenge. But we know our history, and we know that following Christ means creating division and setting the world on fire!
The very last thing the Church needs right now is a Bureaucrat Jesus; a Therapist Jesus. Nor do we need a Lawyer Jesus or a Cop Jesus. Looking at the state of the Church and the trajectory some have chosen for her, I believe that what the Church needs is a Prophet Jesus – a Jesus that can and will call to his Body, the Church, to a radical holiness, a fundamental set-apartness that allows us to understand ourselves as Christs-in-progress. Not just Mass-goers or members of a parish. But as men and women who have been truly and thoroughly purified in the fires of divine love and set upon the path toward glory. If you are on this path, if you are indeed purified in the fires of divine love, then your daily life should be a life of division, conflict, and even warfare with the world around you. I don't mean that you should be violent, or behave like a jerk at the office, or be offensive to those you meet. I mean that everything you are should rebel instinctively against the reach and grasp of a world that's trying to seduce you, to draw you into its dark network of Christ-denying philosophies and practices. The battleground is your immortal soul. And though Christ has already won this war on the cross, we must remain in him to share his victory.
So, you might ask: How do I remain in Christ? Well, Therapist Jesus will ask you how the challenges of holiness make you feel, and affirm you in your OK-ness. Cop Jesus will want to know if you're following the Law, and he'll remind you that he's always watching for infractions. Bureaucrat Jesus will tell you that holiness is a procedure, requiring assessment, feedback, and accreditation. But Prophet Jesus will answer your question with a question: “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?” And while you're floundering around for an answer, he'll shout, “NO! I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” Then you will know that to remain in Christ is to be burned by the world, to be rejected, and turned away b/c you refuse to hide the divine love you carry, b/c you will not fail in bearing witness to the purification that freed you and frees you from sin and death. To remain in Christ, to share in his victory on the cross is to make your life – every part of your life – a rebuke of the world, a challenge to the death-loving culture that boils around us. And that is why we carry conflict, division, and even warfare with us everywhere we go. Not b/c we are angry or violent. . .but b/c we belong to Christ.
I will say again what I have said to you many times over the past seven years: being a follower of Christ is about becoming Christ in the world. It's not about feeling a certain way about God; or filling out the correct paperwork in the correct way; or following all the rules and keeping your nose clean; or being nice to your annoying neighbors. Our Lord Jesus Christ did not suffer torture and death on the cross to show us how to be good, upstanding, middle-class taxpayers. He suffered and died to free us from sin and death. He set the world on fire with his Good News so that nothing created would escape his invitation to receive God's freely offered mercy. He sent the purifying flames of the Holy Spirit upon the Church so that we would have the courage to be witnesses to his sacrifice, so that we would be equipped to give a reason for our hope in the resurrection. He didn't die to make us cowards in the face of the world's seduction. He died to make us saints and martyrs to the Truth – the Truth that set us free and sets us free everyday. If you will remain in him, then do as he does: set the world on fire with divine love.
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