Jesus Christ, the Firebrand

Tom Bartolomeo
20th Sunday Ordinary C 2013
Jeremiah 38: 4-6, 8-10; Psalm 40;
Hebrews 12, 1-4; Luke 12: 49-53
Reproduced with Permission

"Do you think that I had come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division." (Luke 12, 51-53). There you have it, Christ and his Church has never abandoned Jesus' goal leading to our final judgement when the sheep will be separated from the goats at his second coming. And lest anyone not understand God will divide the good from the bad including fathers and sons and mothers and daughters. Yes, Jesus came to save sinners, but only for those who "are ready [to be saved]; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect" (Luke 12, 40). Many if not most of the people of Israel did not want to hear that. Why they were so complicit in Christ's death. "Crucify him. Away with him." Nothing we should take for granted especially those who believe, I'm a good person. Christ will ask, where is the good fruit of you life? I hope you will repeat the beatitude Jesus preached on a mountaintop, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake for theirs is the kingdom of God." (Matthew 5, 10). Do we acknowledge that when we leave this Mass today we are 'sent' to do God's work expressed in the word 'mass' "Ite, missa est"? Such was the fire which consumed our Lord for our example, which the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews acknowledged: "Consider", he said, "how he [Jesus] endured opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart."

The problem today we will do nearly anything to avoid a confrontation or argument. 'Play nice', we are told, like small children, compromise, negotiate and keep the peace at any cost sacrificing even the Gospel. We become so accustomed to evil it hardly moves us. Is religious liberty more important, for example, than religion, a right relationship with our government rather than a right relationship with God? All I have heard in the last several months are pleadings for an accommodation with evil - if only we could be exempt from the evil of our government's Health and Human Services mandate? Jesus, however, directly confronted the powerful, questioning, challenging or condemning evil. No gospel writer knew this better the John who ten lines into his gospel acknowledged that Jesus, "was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not . . . ." And then incredibly we read, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." (John 1, 10-14). (You think the Gospel writer was not including our time?) In the next chapter of John's Gospel after first selecting a few Apostles Jesus attended a wedding, not wishing to draw any attention to himself. His "time had not come", he told his mother when he secretly supplied some extra wine for the wedding reception. Jesus then accompanied Peter, his brother Andrew and other four disciples to Capernaum, Peter's home town. I imagine Peter and the others had to make arrangements with their families before following Jesus to Jerusalem where he immediately enters the temple, fashions a whip and drives out t he tradesmen from the Temple, "Take these things away; you shall not make my Father's house a house of trade." Jesus did not make any friends in the temple that day. The fire which Jesus had come "to set" then began to blaze and the "baptism with which I must be baptized" was set in motion with the shedding of his own blood three years later. The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews reminded his audience that they, too, must resist evil although they "in [their] struggle against sin [had] not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood." Bishop Fulton Sheen, a man of great passion like our Lord said, "Real love involves hatred: whoever has lost the power of moral indignation and the urge to drive the sellers from the temples has also lost a living, fervent love of Truth". (

We should not be surprised that Jesus confronted so many evils in his day and would have us in our time do as much, such as divorce and hypocrisy. When a group of Pharisees and lawyers tried to cajole Jesus into accepting divorce because Moses had permitted it Jesus retorted, "out of the hardness of your hearts" Moses approved your actions, but I will no longer. (cf. Matthew 19, 3 ff). These same hypocrites were the ones who brought a woman "caught in adultery" for Jesus to judge. How did they know where to catch her in adultery? Jesus as we know turned their hypocrisy against them saying, "Let any among you who is without sin throw the first stone." Shame-faced they all turned away while Jesus asked the woman, "Where are your accusers?" She said there were none, and Jesus reminded her, "Sin no more." (John 8, 2-11). What a blessing for that woman.

Baptized Catholics are leaving the faith in droves. I've been told twenty percent have left in the last ten years especially the young. Look around. How many teenagers are there here? How many twenty somethings? But you know them. Dad or Mom or would that be uncle or aunt where are they? Certainly, we shouldn't berate them or drive them away. Insinuate yourselves into their lives, and I am not just talking about getting to church on time. Insinuate yourselves into their lives as a good grandfather, grandmother, father, mother, uncle, aunt, grand uncle, grand aunt, cousin, second cousin and so on. Do you know how many parents of children in our grade school and religious education who do not go to Sunday Mass, both parents and their children? That is just the tip of the iceberg. There are one hundred and sixty-eight hours in a week. And an hour at Sunday Mass is a start but only a start.

Returning to the Gospel According to John and the events in the Temple I just recalled there were visitors "at the Passover feast, many", we are told who, "believed in his name when they saw the signs which he did" which included the expulsion of the money changers. Many knew that commerce had no place in the Temple, but out of habit it was wrongly tolerated. Jesus changed that. Jesus in his action had embarrassed the rulers of the temple who questioned his authority but not his action. One of these was "a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, "we are told, "a ruler of the Jews." Jesus' action had impressed Nicodemus enough to have him secretly visit Jesus at night. "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him." None of the other rulers of the Temple that we know of visited Jesus, but Jesus' action bore fruit with Nicodemus, not immediately but eventually when Nicodemus and another prominent Jew retrieved the dead body of Jesus after his crucifixion. The circumstances or time of the movement of the heart only God knows. We are, nonetheless, Christ bearers of the Good News in the world for which there will be a final accounting.