|20th Sunday in Ordinary time, 14 Aug 2016|
From the Dean’s desk
Over the last few weeks the Gospels have challenged us to live as disciples of Jesus. They have challenged us to live as heirs of the kingdom of God – to have a certain disposition that in some ways can bring us in conflict with worldly ways and values. The Gospels of the previous weeks have asked us to let go of our possessions. This radical poverty seen in the Gospel allows us to utilise our possessions for the good of all. It challenges us to not be governed by a desire for material goods, power, wealth or authority. We should place our ‘treasure’ in heavenly matters. They have included a call to be generous – to share whatever we have with others, especially the poor. We have been encouraged to be alert, watchful and ready for the Master’s return at a time we do not know. We have been asked to be people who live by faith and trust in God’s ways. In today’s Gospel [Luke 12:49-53] we take on a different slant. We hear that those who remain faithful to the ways of Jesus may find that their fidelity will bring dissension and division within their families.
The words and images that Jesus presents to us today seem a little harsh. The division that he speaks of here within family relationships seems to go against the message of the angel Gabriel when he predicted that the Messiah will ‘turn the hearts of fathers towards their children’ [Luke 1:17]. We need to receive these words of Jesus with our minds attentive to the circumstances of Luke’s community. The first Christians emanated from a Jewish society and family environment. When a family member turned towards the teachings of Jesus and wished to follow in his ways, it meant an abandonment of his family’s religious traditions and beliefs. This would be the source of a great amount of angst and trouble as the family unit came to terms with this development. It would have led to some fierce opposition, division and eventual ousting of that family member. This scene is no different to that of a present day Christian family facing the predicament of one of its members turning towards the teachings and beliefs of a sect or religious cult which goes totally against the beliefs and traditions in which that member has grown up. If that member continued to pursue that path a great division and conflict would occur within the family unit. So too it was with Luke’s community.
Our following in the ways of Jesus may not bring about such division and conflict within our family. Our belief in Jesus and our commitment to his ways may bring us in conflict with the world and its beliefs and ethics. It becomes the vocation of the Christian then to bear witness to the ways of Christ through word and action and not to be tempted to back down on important issues simply because a clash of belief may bring about division within relationships. Pope Francis reminds us of the vocation of the Christian within the world: ‘Go against the tide and have the daring to move precisely against the current …and be proud of doing so!’ [Angelus message June 23rd, 2013].
Jeremiah is presented to us as an example of one who went against the tide of popular belief: he revealed God’s message to the people saying that their efforts against the Babylonian troops was futile because they had incurred this invasion, defeat and subsequent exile to a foreign land due to their turning away from God’s word and ways. Jeremiah’s announcement of this message did not make him popular among the people. This brought Jeremiah almost to the point of death as he is flung into a well to die. The living out of our Christian faith may not be as harsh as that of Jeremiah or bring about the division described in today’s Gospel, but what is asked of us today and always is to remain focused on the person of Jesus and his teaching. The Letter to the Hebrews today takes up this message as it compares the vocation of the Christian to that of an athlete, a suitable analogy especially as we are celebrating the Rio Olympics. Just as the athlete has to let go of all that can hinder a better performance, so too we should ‘throw off everything that hinders us, especially sin…keep running steadily the race we have begun. Let us not lose sight of Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection.’
Fr Robert Bossini