20th Sunday Year C - Homily 3

 Homily 3 - 2016

Our world is a violent place and we struggle at times to make sense of it all. We human persons are made in the image of God; and that God is simply and purely love. So to love seems somehow to be in our genes. We are at our best, we are most truly human, when we do love. Yet we struggle to do so; and simply tuning in to any daily TV News program is an only too constant reminder of that. When I reflect on myself and how I feel in the presence of others, I am puzzled and disappointed that my default option seems only too often to be guarded, critical, even quietly hostile.

Today’s Gospel picks up these themes. Jesus expressed his sense of mission, "I have come to bring fire to the earth!" His meaning is not immediately clear, but the author of the Gospel, Luke, would later use the image of fire to illustrate the action of God’s Spirit at Pentecost. So Jesus saw his mission as alerting people to the presence already in their lives of God’s Spirit, that joyfully creative energy of the loving God; and calling them to live accordingly. We were made to love, equipped for love, and are naturally drawn to love. But, as a race, we have lost touch with our true selves. 

In today’s Gospel, Jesus had already begun to experience rejection from those to whom he preached. Sensitive to the experience of so many Hebrew prophets before him, he knew that rejection would lead to hostility, to violence and to death. He saw it coming and was impatient to have it over and done with. “There is a baptism with which I must be baptised, and how I wish it were accomplished.” 

Jesus seems to have recognised that the journey of the human race to conversion would be messy, as some gradually got the message and others did not. Given that humans seem bent on constant rivalry with each other and the usually unrecognised hostility that flows from it and leads so often to mindless violence, we have learnt over millennia to sublimate our floating angers by focussing our hostility on some victim, some scapegoat, some recognisable but usually quite innocent individual or group, and venting our violence on them. And usually it works – whether it be the general bullying of some inoffensive individual in school playground or work site, or the demonisation of whole groups [such as all asylum seekers arriving by boat on our shores]. The shared complicity in the socially sanctioned violence brings a sort of peace or commonality without any need for conversion on anyone’s part.

Jesus hoped that his death as totally innocent victim would serve to expose the lie concealed behind this violent dynamic of sacrificial scapegoating and open the way to conversion. And it is slowly happening. More and more people are feeling uneasy about what they are doing, with the result that the dynamic no longer works as powerfully as it used to. But unless people go further and choose to relate to each other in love, respect and acceptance, their floating angers roam free and uncontrolled. This may be what Jesus was referring to when he said, Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division?" Division was not his intention, but would be the consequence of humanity’s unfinished journey towards self-understanding that hopefully would lead to their unmasking and rejecting their propensity to violence, and to their eventual full conversion. 

The only way to true peace on earth is for us to learn to love and respect each other. "I have come to bring fire to the earth!  and how I wish it were already blazing!”