Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 14, 2022 — Year C
Readings: Jer 38:4-6, 8-10 / Ps 40 / Heb 12:1-4 / Lk 12:49-53
by Rev. Mr. Barry Welch, Guest Homilist
Jesus makes a very striking statement to His disciples in today’s gospel: “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather, division.” Why would Jesus say this? Isn’t He all about peace? We hear so often: Peace be with you. One of His titles is Prince of Peace. Peace is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. From the Beatitudes, we remember, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” And yet, He is bringing up division. Why is it that He says this? I think there are two primary reasons.
The first is the practical advice He is giving to His followers. Many of His followers were thinking that they were with the Messiah now. He was expected to usher in a whole new era of God’s Kingdom. All the tribes would come back together; there would be peace in the land; the Holy City would be returned. Serenity, tranquility, harmony. Everyone getting along, etc.
Jesus lets them know that this is not the way it is going to be. He says that some will love Him, some will follow Him, some will join Him, but others will not. Not only will some not love Him, they will also despise those who do. According to Jesus, that is not His will, but it is the will of those who do not believe, their own free will. So He is letting His followers know that there will be division, and it will put strain on relationships.
I’ve said in homilies before that the moment you make a big step, a big commitment, a vow toward Jesus Christ, you will be challenged. Obstacles will present themselves, fear being one of them. Satan himself, or the lies that he has planted in the world, will be against you, even in your own household and among those you hold most dear. Jesus is clarifying that for us in this gospel.
Secondly, as is often the case, Jesus also has a deeper meaning when He is saying something, especially if He is saying something that may be a little confusing to us. His meaning may not be as readily understandable to us today as it would have been to His original listeners. Jesus is revealing something about Himself as He quotes from the prophet Micah.
Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah, whom Jesus also often quotes. The general idea with Micah is that he is making a movement in his prophesies and proclamations from judgment, trial, testing, into confidence in God’s salvation. In chapter 7 of the Book of Micah, the chapter quoted by Jesus in today’s gospel, he starts with this theme of trials and testing. Here are some excerpts:
“The faithful have disappeared from the land, and there is no one who is upright.…Their hands are skilled to do evil….The official and the judge ask for a bribe….The powerful dictate what they desire and therefore pervert justice….Put no trust in a friend. Have no confidence in a loved one…. Guard the doors of your mouth.”
Here is the part that Jesus quotes: “For the son treats the father with contempt. The daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, and your enemies are members of your own household.”
Whenever Jesus or any of the teachers of His time are quoting ancient scriptures, there is a whole theme and message that they are referring to, not just the individual quote. Up to this point Micah has delivered a theme of trials and tribulations signified by even division within families.
But then, Micah continues: “But as for me, I will look to the Lord. I will wait for the God of my salvation, my God will hear me. As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt, show us marvelous things. (The Exodus, pointing to the new Exodus.) You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show faithfulness to Jacob and unswerving loyalty to Abraham, as you have sworn to our ancestors from the days of old.”
In no uncertain terms, Jesus, in the message He quotes from Micah, is proclaiming to His listeners, His disciples then, and His followers today, that He is the fulfillment of that prophecy. He is the one to achieve the new Exodus to the heavenly kingdom. He is the one to free us from slavery to sin. He is the one to answer the oath sworn to our ancestors. He is the one to bring about the hope for salvation.
He is also saying, in this quote from Micah, that before salvation, there will be difficult times. Before salvation, we will experience that time of trial and tribulation. The upside-down world despises Him. Why wouldn’t it despise us as well?
In the gospel today, Jesus reveals that He is ready to purify the world through fire and the Holy Spirit, as predicted by John the Baptist. The most wonderful part about all of this is that Jesus takes on all of those trials, all of our debts, all of our sins, upon Himself in the baptism of His passion and death, which He said He must endure before the resurrection. He restores what is broken and beaten. He reconciles us to the Father. He recreates us new and brings about salvation.
Before that, however, as we heard in the letter to the Hebrews today, “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.”