20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today's Gospel is certainly not an easy one to listen to, nor meditate on, for instance the question that Jesus answers himself, 'Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division,' has a real sense of tribulation and difficulty about it. We can see in the Church this happening today, different focus groups claiming the moral high ground, or insisting that they, and they alone are those who keep faithful to the teachings of the Church! The greater happenings in our world echo this, upheavals in political systems create unease, whilst deeper than all these concerns is the real and palpable sense of urgency facing us human beings, concerning our conduct and behaviour towards life and the existence of our very planet.
What then does Jesus do to help us in our confusion and muddle? One thing is to make sure we cannot hide from problems, nor gloss over divisions and issues that are of global, national and parochial concern. The Christian community cannot opt out, either individually or collectively, from its responsibilities to proclaim the Good News and live out the Beatitudes in the context of our place in society.
As Jesus suggests we, his Body, his disciples will also have to create disturbance, stir up the consciences of people around us. This is not the time for cosy armchair religion, but then neither is it the place for self-proclaimed prophets of doom to throw themselves about! We have a vocation and a responsibility to be seekers after truth, but also witnesses to the Kingdom and the values Jesus teaches us; particularly those enormously counter intuitive ones of the Beatitudes.
There is also something more which we need to catch hold of, in this Gospel we have an echo of John the Baptist's distinction between his own baptism and that of Jesus: 'I baptize you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire' (Lk 3:16). In our Gospel today the image of fire is destructive, but as many of you will know in this destruction we can also find a purifying quality, for instance when fire separates what is of value from what is worthless as in the smelting of ore for good metal, or removal of rubbish. The Holy Spirit is the cleaner, that force of love which burns out the sinfulness of our lives and the world.
Our own baptism by water and the Spirit requires us to die to sin and selfishness in order to live more fully for God and others, but that is also to send us out in mission to set the world afire. Our planet needs our witness, our hope and our action now!
"There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared. It is itself the great venture and can never be safe. Peace is the opposite of security. To demand guarantees is to want to protect oneself. Peace means giving oneself completely to God's commandment. Wanting no security, but in faith and obedience laying the destiny of the nations in the hand of almighty God. Not trying to direct it for selfish purposes. Battles are won not with weapons, but with God. They are won when the way leads to the cross."
St Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical lectures. 17.
37. If you believe you shall not only receive remission of sins, but also do things which pass man's power. Receive now remission of your sins, and the gifts of the King's spiritual bounty... And may you also be worthy of the gift of prophecy! For you shall receive grace according to the measure of your capacity and not of my words; for I may possibly speak of small things, yet you may receive greater; since faith is a large affair. All your life, long will your guardian the Comforter abide with you; He will care for you, as for his own soldier; for your goings out, and your comings in, and your plotting foes. And He will give you gifts of grace of every kind, if you do not grieve Him by sin ; for it is written, And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby you were sealed unto the day of redemption. (Ep 4:30)
What then, beloved, is it to preserve grace? Be ready to receive grace, and when you have received it, do not cast it away.
38. And may the very God of All, who spoke by the Holy Spirit through the prophets, who sent Him forth upon the Apostles on the day of Pentecost in this place, Himself send Him forth at this time also upon you; and by Him keep us also, imparting His benefit in common to us all, that we may ever render up the fruits of the Holy Ghost, love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. (Gal 5:22-23)
Fr Robin is an Eastern Rite Catholic Chaplain for Melkites in the UK. He is also an Ecumenical Canon of Christ Church, Oxford
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