Wow! The readings we have today are very difficult. In the first reading we hear the people of Israel under King Zedekiah don’t like what they hear from the prophet Jeremiah. They’re supposed to be God fearing people, but when they don’t like what the prophet tells them, they act very ungodly. So they take Jeremiah to a cistern and lower him in to die a slow death. Speaking the word of God can lead to trouble. In the Gospel, Jesus tells us he did not come to establish peace, but rather division. I thought Jesus was supposed to be the prince of peace? This division is going to happen among those who are the closest: families. A house will be divided, three against two, father against son, mother against daughter, and mother-in-law against daughter-in-law. This does not sound very encouraging at all.
Jesus said he came to light a fire on earth. That fire was to preach the truth to the people. This truth would go against the grain of the culture. Some of the people heard and accepted this truth and became his disciples. They would become his family, his brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers. This was a source of division Jesus referred to.
During Jesus’ time, family was of utmost importance. You were obligated to protect your family to preserve its honor. Family was your first obligation above anything else. It was shameful to do anything to disrupt the family. It was also forbidden to change the status you had in society. If you were from a poor family, you remained among the poor. You were not permitted to improve upon your situation. If you were wealthy, you could not associate with the poor. This would dishonor your family.
Those who became Jesus’ disciples prioritized him over their own family obligations or their status in society. This would lead to the divisions that Jesus spoke about in today’s Gospel. Following Jesus would go against the cultural norms of the times and result in hardships for his disciples.
Do any of you have divisions in your own families due to being a disciple of Jesus? I certainly do. I’m sure many of you do as well. Much like the times of Jesus, we have divisions in our own families. One of the cultural norms of today is to refrain from discussions on religion and politics at family gatherings in order to keep peace. This may keep peace for the family gathering, but does it bring true and lasting peace for those who don’t really know Jesus?
I was recently at the annual St. Lawrence Day dinner for all the deacons and their wives. Archbishop Thompson spoke and commented on the topic of tolerance. Tolerance is an ideal that’s embraced by our American culture today of acceptance of any belief, lifestyle, or behavior as long as it doesn’t “hurt” someone else. He mentioned some disappointment he experienced at a recent Catholic education event he attended. The speaker’s topic of the event focused on the “virtue” of tolerance. He said unfortunately tolerance is not a Catholic virtue, but is a virtue of our culture.
The problem with tolerance is that truth is not spoken at the expense of not offending the other person. If you speak the truth its considered not being kind. If the truth is not spoken, you may be kind, but you’re not showing love for the other person. Sometimes the truth is what people really need to hear. Jesus didn’t come to be kind, he came to show us love, the love of God.
Jesus said in today’s Gospel that “I came to set the world on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! The fire he was speaking is the truth of the Gospel he came to proclaim. By being Jesus’ disciples and following his teachings, The letter to the Hebrews tells us, we have the hope of the joy that lay before him. This hope is eternal life with Jesus in heaven. Jesus came to save us through his death on the cross, and gave us his Church so we can become his disciples through the sacraments and following the Church’s teaching. Many of the Church’s teachings are difficult to accept. They are counter-cultural. As Jesus disciples, we are called to follow His teachings and share them with others by speaking the truth. If we share these truths in a loving way, even with those who disagree with us, we are showing them love. Jesus tells us that if we do this there will be divisions, even in our own families.
How can we share the truths with others in a loving way? The letter to the Hebrews offers some good advice: persevere in running the race that lies before uswhile keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus. If we look at the race as a marathon and approach it with patience and keeping a steady pace over the long haul, we can accomplish the task. We can keep a steady pace through daily prayer and frequent reception of the sacraments. By being patient with those we our divided with, we may eventually be able to share the truths of our Christian faith with love at the right time, so they can have the same hope as we do, of eternal life with our Lord and Savior.