Gospel and Homily Notes by Archbishop Joseph Harris, C.S. Sp
Gospel: Luke 12:49-53
Jesus said to his disciples: “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! 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; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”
One of the saddest things for families to endure is the break-up or separation of spouses or the refusal of brothers and sisters to live in peace and harmony. When we hear of siblings taking each other to court because of the inheritance, we wonder what their parents who are no longer with them must be thinking. Some parents to avoid such situations give all that they have to give before death and try to ensure that no money is left for the children to fight over.
I thought of that scenario as I read the Gospel passage given to us for our meditation this weekend, because Jesus the prince of peace who gave his life so that all those who are scattered could be gathered together, tells us in this gospel passage; “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”
To understand this passage we have to understand the symbolism which Jesus uses.
Jesus tells the people “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” What does Jesus mean? In biblical imagery, fire is a symbol of God’s powerful presence. We remember Moses at the burning bush which was not consumed when God spoke to Moses, we remember the pillar of fire that accompanied the Israelites by night as they wandered through the desert to the Promised Land, and we remember the tongues of fire that hovered over the disciples at Pentecost. This powerful presence of God always calls those who experience it to devote their lives to doing God’s will. When we no longer experience this presence, there is always the possibility or the temptation to forget the marvels that the presence of God has worked for and within us and with that comes the temptation to listen to other voices which do not express God’s will for us.
There are in the world then forces which tend to make us forget the presence of God and we are called to make choices, either for God and his message or for the messages of other forces. We have only to think of some carnival bands, or of some business deals, to realize how easy it is to forget the presence of God and make choices totally against God’s will, choices which do not enhance the human condition. This happens among friends; it happens in families and brings division where harmony should exist. and so the words of Jesus become prophetic; “From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” The solution to this problem of course is to try to live always in the presence of God, refusing to entertain those thoughts and actions which cloak or hide God’s presence from us. As we are all creatures of habit, let us build the habit of remaining in God’s presence, not only on Sundays when we go to church but every day, so that our choices may always be according to God’s will. This is the only recipe for harmonious living. This is what all the saints, our heroes in the faith did. They always lived in the presence of God, letting nothing make them forget that presence. This is what all of us disciples of Jesus are called to do. May the shining light of God’s presence always enlighten our hearts and our ways as it enlightened the way of the Israelites through the desert, as it enlightened the ways of the prophets and saints.
All powerful and ever-loving God we thank you for reminding us that You are always present to us as You were present to the Israelites in the pillar of fire as they journeyed through the desert to the promised land. As we journey in this modern day desert to our promised land be with us and guide us as you guided the Israelites. Let the light of your presence ensure that we do not lose our way making choices against your will. Let our choices always be choices for the Kingdom. We ask this through the intercession of Mary, our Mother and Jesus your son. Amen