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20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 14, 2016

August here amid the verdant hills of western Pennsylvania is normally hot and humid enough, and on top of that this summer we have an additional stream of hot air provided by the circus surrounding our national presidential election. An endless rotation of self-appointed "experts" and other pundits are glad to dispense their opinions on any and all matters political, though their perspectives are not often well-informed much less Christian in any thoroughgoing way.

In sharp contrast to these preachers of worldly wisdom our Lord has a message for us in the gospel which truly brings the heat to our lives. He tells us: "I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!" If we think this is a poetic image of happy zeal we need only read further where Jesus adds: "Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three" (Luke 12:49-50, 51-52).

As we see in the first reading today Jeremiah the prophet experienced the same sort of heat during the course of his ministry, but he never wobbled in his convictions. The people of Judah did not want to hear what he had to say on behalf of the Lord and they sought to marginalize and silence him, even to the point of imprisoning him in a muddy cistern. Jeremiah remained true to the Lord however, and though the division between him and his peers brought about by his faith cost him dearly he valued fidelity to God above the approval of his fellow countrymen.

Jesus' word continues to bring fiery division into today's world and into our own communities and families. We feel the heat turned up when our children leave the Church, when a sibling or relative comes out as gay, when politics or neighbors drive us to rage, when the gap between the wealthy and the poor in our home communities is scandalous, and so forth.

When these things happen we should not compromise the faith we hold dear, not should we avoid the questions which press upon us, rather we ought to do what the author of Hebrews described in today's second reading: "Let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith" (Heb 12:1-2).

This means engaging responsibly in the political processes that are open to us but not naively imagining that any politician or party will ever provide the justice, much less the redemption, for which we all long. It also means not ridiculing the beliefs or views of others but rather always being ready "to give an account of the hope that is within us" (1 Pet 3:15) as the result of our love for Christ, the one true "leader and perfecter" of our faith and the only one worthy of our devotion.

Jesus used a political term, "the Kingdom", to describe the reality he inaugurated, though as he says in the gospel it is a Kingdom which causes human kingdoms and households-and political parties-to be divided against themselves. Holding fast to his teaching, let us be set ablaze by Christ, allowing our Christian hope serve as a purifying fire to guide us toward his Kingdom, sharing the light of the gospel along the way in a culture so desperately in need of it.