Jesus, Purifier and Saviour of our Souls!
Readings: (1st: Jer 38, 4-6. 8-10; Ps: 39, 2-4.18; 2nd: Heb 12, 1-4; Gos: Lk 12, 49-53)
This brief reflection was written by Rev. Fr. Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a member of the Congregation Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers, Province of Nigeria South East. He is currently the Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church Woliwo Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria. For more details and comments contact him on: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, Phone: +23408063767512, +23408024942843
Today, the 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time, the Church encourages us, and raises our morale to fight against evil following the footsteps of Christ our Lord, who came to bring “fire” upon the earth in order to communicate to us something of his tremendous zeal. Jesus comes to purify, transform, and save us, our families and society from the perils that afflict us.
In the first reading, Jeremiah the prophet of God suffers grave injustice, for the sake of the message he preached. He became a man of dissension for all the land where he preached the word of God. His message was so discomforting to the leading men. So their best option was to get rid of him by setting the king up against him. Although they succeeded, in their plot, God proved himself a powerful Saviour. As the one who sent the prophet, he did not allow him to perish but in his own way came to his aid. Our God is ever faithful and ready to deliver us in times of difficulty as the Psalmist testifies: “I waited and waited for the Lord, and He stooped down to save me, He heard my cry.” This is especially, at those moments that our troubles are heightened by the fact that we are on the path of truth and justice, and at those times when our life is a contrast to our society. The second reading from Hebrews encourages us to keep running steadily. We are to “look up to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith, who saves and brings us to perfection.” We are also to emulate his zeal, courage and fortitude in the face of opposition from the harsh situations and systems that heralded his coming and message. Although, we are not called to commit suicide in the face of oppositions, we are to continue resisting and fighting evil even to the point of death. This may sound rather absurd, but at times, situations could warrant or demand this. The strength and energy we need to do all these will definitely be supplied by Jesus Christ Himself. The gospel of today is one of such that has proved an enigma to scripture scholars, and especially, to fundamentalists who have employed it variously in a very negative way. Granted that the periscopes contained therein are very incisive and zeal provoking, yet, one needs the light and guidance of the Holy Spirit in order to understand what the Lord wishes to communicate to us through today’s gospel.
Brother Ike-Jesu came home one day, and started smashing and throwing away his television, radio set, and other electronics in his Parlour. When his neighbours asked him what was happening to him, he was quick to interject: “I am now born again, behold the old things have passed away in my life!” As they listened to him, he continued: “My Master says, ‘if any of your fingers will lead you to sin cut it off!’” It then dawned on them that he has joined one of the fundamentalist movements wrapped in the cloak of Christianity in other to preach their gospel of hate and destruction. Worst still was the fact that he soon refused to associate with any member of his family again because he viewed them all as sinners and unbelievers. In addition to frequently quoting: “Do not conform any longer to the patterns of this world…” (Rom 12, 2), he quoted Jesus in today’s gospel as saying: “I have come to bring fire on earth…Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth? From now…son against father, daughter against mother, brother against sister…” To the utmost surprise of his neighbours, it was not long before they saw his Pastor preaching on the television and radio, even to the extent of selling tapes and VCDs. After some months Ike-Jesu left the church for another. Before his neighbours knew it, more electronics than he ever had found and walked their way back into his Parlour.
There are occasions in the Bible when fire did fall from heaven. Fire and brimstone fell from heaven upon Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:24ff). One of the ten plagues against Egypt was fire and hail from heaven (Ex 9:3). The prophet Elijah called down fire from heaven that incinerated Ahaziah’s soldiers (2 Kings 1:9-17). Does it mean that Jesus is longing and wishing for destruction? No the fire that Jesus came to cast on the earth is none of those fires. It is not a destructive fire. It is the fire of the Holy Spirit, which fights the ballet for our souls. In describing this fire St. Cyril of Alexandria wrote: “We affirm therefore that the fire which is sent forth by Christ is for men’s salvation and profits….For the fire here is, I say, the saving message of the Gospel, and the power of its commandments; by which all of us upon earth, who were so to speak cold and dead because of sin, and in ignorance of Him Who by nature and truly is God, are kindled unto a life of piety, and made fervent in spirit.” (Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Luke, 1859, Sermons 89-98, pp. 409-459).
Hence, this Sunday, Jesus reassures us of his willingness to continue the work of salvation which he started in us, through a continuous purification of our souls. The fire he wishes to bring is that which is very positive and objective. Far be it from the “Consuming fire” stuff pejoratively construed and employed by most Christians today! Rather, it is for our own purification and good. It is meant to consume only the debris and fabrics of inordinate attachment, immorality, injustice, evil, and corruption in our lives. The aim of this is simple, our purification, liberation and salvation. It is meant to convict and convince us of the need to turn a new leaf, and help us re-examine our past and present standing before God in order to foster a better future for ourselves and our generation. It will test our deep inner self, thus revealing our attitudes and motives. Jesus, through this purifying fire will expose among us the worthless dross of the refining process. This fire will reveal those who are the precious metals that could be purified and made suitable for the Kingdom where God is the Sovereign and Jesus, the appointed King. It is the fulfillment the prophecy of Mal 3, 2-3.
What is the cause of the division that Jesus talks about here? It is the good news we preach with our purified, positive and contrasted life which challenges the injustices in our families, churches, society, country and the world at larger; the good news that salvation, forgiveness, and eternal life is attained through faith in Jesus Christ. Because this message excludes those who refuse to turn to Jesus, it offends them, angers them, and often opposition and division result. However, it is important to note here that in spite of this, we must bear in mind that it is the sinners who eventually become the saints as Saint Augustine depicted in his De Civitate Dei contra Paganos (City of God against the Pagans). Therefore, we must love them but not their sin. We must welcome them still as our brothers and sisters in need of salvation. Ostracizing them will make us loose them completely, and by this we would have failed in the mission entrusted to us by Jesus our Saviour. In as much as today’s gospel raises our morale in the fight against evil, unbelief, and injustice, it is also important to appreciate that our world needs more love than hatred, more peace than war, and more unity than divisions.
Peace be with you all!