20th Sunday Year C

See Commentary on Luke 12:49-52 in Luke 12:49-53

Homily 1 - 2007

Jesus saw that living out the vision he had of people and of society would be divisive.

His vision was of a world that God loved, of people whom God loved - so, consequently, a social order where everyone had a fair go, where everyone’s innate dignity was deeply respected by everyone else, where whole groups of people were not pushed to the margins, or kept there, exploited, or given no real chance; and as well, where the world and its environment were not wasted or destroyed. He knew that that vision would be profoundly divisive and would arouse very strong emotional reactions, that it would be vigourously opposed, particularly by those in power and those with vested interests in keeping things as they were.

The dynamics have not changed all that much over the years. Speak up for the marginalised, the less powerful, the disadvantaged, and you can expect what Jesus experienced himself, and what he warned his followers about: the sword. Their alternative voice would be like the metaphorical sword that would provoke the violent sword of the vested interests.

As we look at the various issues confronting our world today: power and energy generation, uranium supplies and nuclear power, genetically modified crops, embryonic stem cell research, the relentless flood of refugees, and, then, environmental change and degradation …. they are complex issues with many ramifications.

There are strong and powerful economic interests involved, power, control, security interests, big money, high stakes. But there are other issues involved as well: the effect on people, particularly, but not only, on the poorest (struggling to keep their heads above water); the future of the world’s bio-diversity; the freedom of individuals, even the freedom of governments, manipulated by financial corporations like puppets on a string.

Jeremiah in the First Reading just survived an assassination attempt because he kept insisting that to flirt with Egypt in a search for greater national security was to sell out on the values that God stood for. The monied aristocracy disagreed.

As followers of Jesus, our primary concern is the common good, where genuine human needs are valued above surplus human wants; where the fertility and productivity of the earth are directed to serving the needs of all, and not simply the wants and desires of the few.

In the mind of Jesus, those with more than enough (as individuals and as nations) are called to share with those with less than enough, to subordinate their wants and desires in order to meet the real human needs of the rest and, in the process, to put up with the effects on their standard of living.

Market forces, of themselves, are too easily controlled by powerful monopolies, whether nation states, corporations or enormously wealthy individuals. Economic and security related considerations are important – vitally important – not in themselves, but only to the extent that they allow human persons to grow and to mature. They are important not just for some, but for all.

One of the complex issues facing a region like our own with so many primary producers is the introduction of genetically modified crops. There are loud voices on both sides of the debate. What should be the values that shape the opinions of followers of Jesus? It is hard for the average person to know what is relevant, to get the necessary background information, and then to have the capacity to evaluate it. But those directly affected need to face the issues carefully. Unfortunately, it is often easier to argue than to seek the truth together.

Jesus would not be voluntarily silenced. In the end they forcefully silenced him by crucifixion, only to find his voice taken up by generations of followers across the centuries to our own day and within our own shores. I have come to bring fire to the earth! Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division…

Homily 2 - 2013

I find today’s Gospel quite challenging.  Jesus wished to set the world on fire.  But he had not succeeded.  The general consensus is that he was referring to a world on fire with love.  He was feeling under pressure.  He and the disciples were making their way to Jerusalem.  He could read the writing on the wall, and knew that he would fall foul of the power elites based there – the chief priests, the wealthy aristocratic families and their legal experts.

The reason they would get him was that he radically challenged the political and religious status quo.  He insisted that social interactions should be based on love, respect and sensitivity to minority groups and the socially disadvantaged.  In his mind, that was the only way to achieve any peace worth talking about.  He also realised that the surest way to disturb the peace was to talk about genuine peace – based on true justice and respect for all.

Anyone who genuinely responded to his vision of a world redeemed, of a world really worth living in – of what he called the Kingdom of God – could expect fierce opposition.  They were not themselves to take up the sword, but they could certainly expect to encounter it in one form or another – literally or metaphorically.  By the time that Luke was writing his Gospel, about sixty years after Jesus’ murder, many Christians had already experienced deep and painful family and community divisions.

Interestingly, we are reflecting on today’s Gospel as the nation is gearing up for a federal election.  Also interesting is the fact that, across the world, the Church observes today as the annual Migrant and Refugee Sunday.  Sadly, the issue of migrants and refugees will not figure much in the pre-election discussions since both major parties pretty well see eye-to-eye on their proposed attitudes to migrants and refugees.  What is the motivation determining the general thrust and the particular details of current political policy around the issue?  Self-interest, sectional interest and national interest were the reasons why the power elites got rid of Jesus, and why the population generally went along without much fuss.

Currently we live within the global village.  Today on the world scene there are just over fifteen million genuine refugees mostly living in refugee camps outside their borders – where they have basic food and shelter but little hope for anything else.  And then there are just under one million asylum seekers, using their own initiative, hoping to find some country where they can work, possibly bring up a family and secure education for their children.  We wish there weren’t - but there are.  Closing our eyes doesn’t make them magically disappear.  Their existence is an international problem, needing an international response.

Over the past few months, asylum seekers have been arriving in Australia at the rate that would mean about 40,000 per year.  To concretise that a bit, that would mean on average 4 refugees settling in a place the size of Warracknabeal each year – something like one family of four people.  Hardly a threat to our natural resources or our infrastructure.

Last Thursday was the Feast of Mary’s Assumption.   The Gospel for the liturgy was Mary’s prayer, where she proclaimed aloud how her soul exulted in God – the God who pulled down the mighty from their thrones and exalted the lowly, who filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.  I asked the congregation how they thought Mary might wish them to vote in the coming election.  Since then, I have met four or five different ones who angrily lamented their powerlessness to do anything significant with their vote.  Given the common ground on this issue of the major parties, I suggested that they might consider the personal attitudes of their local candidates who might have some influence within their respective party rooms in future determination of policies,

Jesus is consistently concerned about motivation; because it is our motivations that determine the kind of persons we are.  And the kind of persons we are determines how we experience life personally, and how we contribute to the mood of the community we belong to.  In the long term, we join with Jesus in the ever-relevant, never-ending task of casting fire on the earth.

 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!”

Homily 4 - 2019

Today’s Gospel is unexpectedly and surprisingly topical. The result of Cardinal Pell’s Appeal will be known on Wednesday next week. That, along with recent discussion about the seal of the sacrament of confession, has opened wounds and served to make bishops and priests as a group objects of a lot of anger and division within the community. It has also made you all open to stated or unstated criticism and misunderstanding by close neighbours and work-mates.

It seems to me that most people have already made up their minds about the guilt or innocence of Cardinal Pell; and the result of the Appeal will not change their conclusions but serve only to increase the intensity of their emotional reactions.

All the goings-on have also no doubt unsettled, angered or confused you too. Sadly, the general negativity within the community is due far more to the Church’s unfaithfulness to Christ than to its faithfulness. How long before we bounce back? Still, This is the world in which we live. This is reality. It is the world of real people, whose faces are familiar and whose names we know.

Yet ours is a world of equally real people whose lives we know about only from what we see and hear through our media. This is also the world where we work out our destiny, where we develop our capacity to love – or not, the earth to which Jesus came to cast fire of love, that takes shape as respect, cooperation and care for each other. Globalisation has ensured that people even on the other side of the world are now our neighbours. How they live affects us; how we live affects them. Like it or not, we have become responsible for each other. But why would we not like it?

On Friday night I was watching the TV news, reporting on the recent meeting of heads of government of the nations of the Pacific. Unanimously they lamented that, as the temperature around the globe was slowly warming, the rising sea levels in the Pacific had begun to encroach on their islands, making their inhabitants increasingly landless and homeless. One of the heads of government, I believe, was actually weeping. “Weakness? or Strength of character?” I thought to myself.

Together they asked our Prime Minister to reduce Australia’s mining, selling and burning of coal that contributes to the world’s warming. His response was to claim that reducing the amount we contribute would not solve their predicament. Besides, it would probably cost us something. To me, it sounded very much like the excuse of Cain, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Where Jesus speaks cooperation, so often his message provokes predictable push back.

Singly, the effect of any one of us on the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is minimal. Together as a nation, however, our contribution is significant. As only one of the nations of the industrialised West, Australia’s effect is limited; but together, we are strangling our world. We can no longer consider ourselves as single, unconnected units. We need to open our minds and our hearts. We need a different mind-set. We have become citizens of the global village – where we must each pull our weight together. As a little child matures over time from being absorbed with individual need to accept its place responsibly within the family, so personal interest in a civilized society gives way to the common good and to the national interest. As civilizations mature in an increasingly internationalized world, nations must learn to cooperate together in the global interest. National political leaders need to grow up and become international statesmen. We have all become citizens of the world, no longer simply of an isolated nation-state.

It was two thousand years ago that Jesus' call to love began to arouse push back - not peace on earth ... but rather division. You would think that over two thousand years we would have grown up somewhat and learnt something. Thank God, some people have. We need to remind ourselves that wonderful people are around.The stakes now are survival.