20TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR C ON AUGUST 18, 2019 (R. 1: Jeremiah 38: 4- 6, 8- 10; Psalm 40: 2- 4, 18; R. 2: Hebrews 12: 1- 4; Gospel: Luke 12: 49- 53)
There were many prophecies about Jesus before he was born. Some were very direct, and others not so direct. The Prophet Isaiah said he would be called “Prince of Peace” (Cf. Isaiah 9:6). When eventually Jesus was born, the angel broke the news to shepherds who were watching their flock by night and the host of heaven sang with the angel, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth” (Cf. Luke 2: 9- 14). But in today’s Gospel passage, as an adult, Jesus comes up to say, we should not think he has come to establish peace on the earth, but rather division. Earlier on, he said, he had come to set the earth on fire. This is serious! The Prince of Peace now declaring himself the “Chief Trouble Maker?” Is Jesus out to contradict what was prophesied about him before he was born? Did his parents not tell him what was expected of him? Did he not read his job description?
This is no contradiction. Jesus remains the Prince of Peace. He has come to give us peace. But this is not peace as we know it. He has come to rescue us from pseudo peace and to give us perfect peace, which no one can take away from us. He has come to challenge us to step out of our comfort zones. He has come to meet us where we are so as to take us to where we are supposed to be. This is not an easy process for us, it comes like fire, it troubles our pseudo peace, but it liberates us. In the beginning, God created human beings (male and female) in His own image and likeness (cf. Genesis 1: 26- 27) and after a while, this great work was corrupted by sin. In the fullness of time, the Word of God became flesh; divinity took humanity so that humanity may become divine. This is a call to let go of our comfort zone. Pope Benedict XVI would say, “The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.”
Do you now see why Jesus said he has not come to give us peace? I don’t know about you, but for me, I don’t look forward to corrections. I don’t look forward to feedback that tell me what I did wrong. Let me tell you the kind of things I look forward to: I look forward to the end of this Mass when some wonderful parishioners will come to tell me how great and how wonderful my homily was. It is usually one of my best moments; when you come to remind me of how great a preacher I am. But once in a while, I have one or two parishioners pull me aside to say, “Father, that was a good homily, but…eeeem…” At such points, my heart begins to pound, and I begin to wonder, “What is it again? After all the efforts I have put in?” Such are usually not my best moments. But I must confess that, if you think I do well today in my homilies, it is also thanks to people like that who gave me hard times. At such moments, they troubled my “peace”, but as a result of such troubles, I have greater peace; I have grown. That is the kind of trouble/fire that Jesus is talking about; it is the fire that tears us down to build us into our best version.
Jesus also talks about causing division. This is the division that stems from the incorruptibility of Truth. It is about the revealing nature of the truth. Jesus is the Truth, and he has come to share the Truth with us. No one can destroy the Truth; you are either for the Truth or you are against the Truth; that is where the division comes in. The Truth is so vital that we should be ready to forgo even biological relationships and other relationships to be on the side of the Truth. Jesus taught this by example. At a point while he was teaching, he was told that his mother, his brothers and his sisters were looking for him, he gave a response that implied that the only kinship that ultimately mattered was the one that sprang from hearing and doing the word of God (Cf. Luke 8: 19- 21; 11: 27- 28).
When Christ went to the cross, with his hands outstretched it signaled what he came for. With his hands outstretched, he ruled out all forms of political correctness; all forms of mediocrity; it was a call to choose between his left and his right. Choosing the path of Truth also implies paying the price. Jeremiah payed the price in the first reading. Those in power cannot withstand the truth, they implore every means including death to silence the messenger. The same was done to Jesus and his disciples. Even to this day, think of what happens to those who dare to challenge the status quo. Even in our Christian communities, think of what becomes of those who advocate for a more judicious and clearer administration of Church funds; are they not usually objects of attack by the well-connected? But God always defends His messengers in the long run.
The second reading assures us that we are not alone in the race. Many “have gone before us marked with the sign of faith.” The second reading refers to them as “[A] cloud of witnesses.” The Greek word for witness is martus.From this word we have the English word “martyr,” which refers to one who witnesses to the Truth to the point of shedding blood. Those who have gone ahead have their lives to prepare us for the persecution their-in; and to encourage us, they have the crown of glory they now wear.
My dearly beloved in Christ, I am not sure of what you are going through at the moment because of the Truth. Maybe your family has turned against you because they know you have no place for falsehood; maybe, you are a lone ranger in your place of work because your colleagues know you will also stand by the Truth. We are challenged today to receive the Truth and to stand by the Truth come what may. The Truth cannot be destroyed; it may take some time, but it will always defeat. The Truth is like a seed, when you bury it, it germinates and turns out greater and better than it was. Etienne Gilson is quoted to have said that, “It is not hard to find the truth. What is hard is not to run away from it once you have found it.” But the choice is yours!  

Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Ochigbo

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