August 14, 2016 — Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
In today’s Gospel from the Book of Luke Jesus says, “I have come to set the earth on fire…” That sounds somewhat foreboding, but we must consider it in light of what will happen. You may recall the reading from the Acts of the Apostles that we heard on Pentecost Sunday last May. In that reading we are told, “Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.”
The Holy Spirit is represented by the image of fire at least five times in Holy Scripture. Earlier in Luke (Chapter 3) St. John the Baptist declares when speaking of the coming of Jesus, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” We tend to think of water when we think of Baptism. However, fire is an equally accurate symbol. At another point the Bible says, through Jesus the fire will consume the chaff, having separated it from the wheat. Fire provides light; fire gives warmth; and we are called to be on fire for our faith and for the Lord. The Word of God needs to burn in our hearts.
The Readings for this Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time remind us of the power of the Holy Spirit and of how we have all been blessed with it. The First Reading comes from the Old Testament Book of Jeremiah. Many scholars feel that the prophet Jeremiah comes through most clearly as a real person as he shares with his scribe Baruch his role as a servant of God. This reading speaks of a time when Jeremiah was thrown into a cistern to die. However, a man named Ebed Melech comes forward to defend and eventually rescue Jeremiah. A stranger, a gentile, Ebed Melech was from Ethiopia; he was as different as he could be. Yet he has the courage to stand up for what is right and just. You might say he was filled with the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that is available to us to fill us with strength to do what we should do.
The Letter to the Hebrews from which our Second Reading is extracted also speaks of strength when it says that Jesus had an inner power to overcome adversity and to carry out His role, His destiny to be our Savior. Sometimes we fail to recognize that we are granted that inner force as well. It is granted to us at our Baptism, and continues to be given to us through all the sacraments, including the Holy Eucharist. Nevertheless, we must be prepared to use this strength to be the kinds of good stewards and disciples to which the Lord has called us.
Of course, Jesus makes the challenges clear to us in the Gospel Reading from St. Luke. After reminding us of the fire of the Holy Spirit we have been given, the Lord makes mention of the many challenges that may come with it: among other things “…a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother.” These sound like terrible situations, but it is the Lord’s way to remind us that this may be the price each of us must pay for being a faithful steward. If we truly follow the Lord and are His sincere disciples, we may well suffer division for His sake.
Jesus is not saying that these kinds of conflicts are inevitable, but He does want us to be aware that pursuing stewardship as a way of life may cause these things. That is where the power of the Holy Spirit comes into play. Through prayer and consistency and determination to follow Jesus we have to be ready to suffer at times for our beliefs.