Jeremiah 38:4–6, 8–10; Hebrews 12:1–4; Luke 12:49–53
The good news for you while the air conditioner is out is that all of us are getting a crash course in preparing two-minute homilies. The bad news is that apparently Jesus meant it when he said in the gospel that He wanted to set the earth on fire.
We have three readings that all talk about the inevitable conflict between the City of God and the Earthly City: the life of faith and belief, and the life of the worldly concerns. If we take nothing from the news of the times, we should at least see clearly that the demands of faith are coming increasingly in conflict with the demands of our culture. This should not surprise us. It has been this way forever. The first case in point is Jeremiah. He gives the people of Israel and Judah bad news, and what do they do? Well, they want to kill the messenger. Fortunately, Ebed-Melech—literally “servant of the king”—convinces the king that this is the wrong thing to do. That was back when world leaders actually listened to sound advice from their advisors rather than the latest poll results.
St. Paul exhorts us to keep our eyes on the prize—on Jesus. We will encounter opposition just as he did, and we will feel abandoned, but we have a cloud of witnesses—the saints and each other—to intercede for us.
And in the gospel, Jesus is not talking about unity, not about tolerance. He says, “I am coming to bring division.” In the gospel of Matthew’s telling of this account, Jesus goes further, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Why a sword? Why division?
I think a better question to ask is why continue to pretend that we are not divided when in fact there is division all around us.
Christian and Catholic faith and morals are being pushed more and more to the peripheries of our society. Our world is becoming more violent, more anti-life, and more anti-faith. This is not a new condition, but it is increasingly our condition. And we can deny it and continue sitting on the fence, or we can recognize the truth and choose to stand our ground and be witnesses for our Catholic faith. There will be division. That much Jesus promised. The questions is whether we’ll be willing to pick up our cross when the time comes.
In a few moments we will stand up to celebrate the Eucharist—the sacrament of our unity with each other, with Christ, and with that cloud of witnesses that St. Paul mentions—that cloud of witnesses that takes part in the same heavenly banquet with us. When we leave this Eucharist today and go about our lives, what will that great cloud of witnesses witness of us?