The Letter to the Hebrews that we hear from on the 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time reminds us to remain steadfast and faithful, enduring any temptations or allurements that draw us away from the way of Jesus. The Gospel reading reminds us that Jesus came to set a proverbial fire on the earth. He wanted there to be clarity about His way versus any other ways.
The fire that He talks about is not meant to be destructive, but cleansing. So much of our life is lived unconsciously. We often don’t think before we act, or we don’t listen to others because we are distracted about worries from the past or anxieties about the future. This cleansing fire that Jesus suggests is meant to take away all those things that lure us away from the present moment and our willingness to be disciples of Jesus.
In the Old Testament, there were prophets like Jeremiah who acted as the cleansing fire sent into certain circumstances. They were sent to speak the truth of God’s way when the people of the day had become confused or alienated from God. There were certain truths that the prophets would proclaim that were difficult for people to hear. The prophets would speak about a culture’s treatment of widows, orphans, the poor and the sick. The prophets would talk about the immorality of excess wealth, while other people starved and went naked. The prophets would speak about the way that power was used by governments to hurt those on the margins of society and take advantage of those who are weaker.
We have prophets in our day who speak those same warnings to us, and we usually have the same reaction. Just as the people of Jeremiah’s time threw him into a cistern, hoping he would die, we tend to belittle or ostracize those who speak prophetic words to us today. Most of us are so comfortable with our current circumstances that anyone who calls us to change for the sake of another seems to be threatening our very security and way of life.
Our Catholic Church has many prophetic teachings, and we try our best to get that message out. But many of us have difficulties with some of those prophetic teachings. We pick and choose between those we agree with and those we don’t, failing to allow the fire of Jesus to cleanse us of choosing comfort and convenience over the truth.
We have a prophetic message that all human life is valuable, no matter the circumstances. We have a prophetic economic message, which calls us to examine our own use of money and its effect on the way that other people live. We have a prophetic message about the use of weapons, especially those that take innocent human life. We have a prophetic message about how we should treat the earth and all of its resources. Each of these teachings is difficult to live, but they are the fires that Jesus wants to set in our world to help us look more like the Kingdom of God.
And we are reminded today not to grow weary and lose heart, even though the prophetic messages are difficult to hear. Instead, let us choose an area in our lives where we can grow. Where would you and I be willing to adhere more closely to the teachings of Jesus, even if it makes our life somewhat more difficult? How could we alter our choices so that our actions might benefit the earth and the people who live on it? Where could we begin to see “the beam in our own eye” rather than the splinter in someone else’s eye? Let the cleansing power of the fire of Jesus’ prophetic message clear a way for the truth to be lived more clearly in your own life.