Fire Upon the Earth
20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Antonio P. Pueyo
Reproduced with Permission

Everyone loves harmony. The Lord Jesus prayed for His disciples, “that they may be one,” (Jn. 17:21). In principle, we would prefer a harmonious and strife-free situation over one that is tension-filled In general, we would like to live in a peaceful environment rather than a chaotic setting. Given the choice, we would rather have friends than enemies. We would like to sleep peacefully at night rather than have nightmares. This is the natural human desire. This is our quest for a “paradise lost”, or a Shangri-la, or Heaven.

Human life is such that we have to deal with daily struggles. Such tensions can vary in intensity. Just to get up from our beds in the morning is already a shift from a physically relaxed state to a state where we have to exert effort. Then we start thinking of the day’s work and we become more tense. We begin talking to people from our household to our places of work and the tensions gather. From time to time we may be able to relax by resting, doing things we really like to do, or talking to people whom we like to be with. We may experience moments of frustration and moments of victories. At the end of the day, hopefully we wind down, we rest, we leave our troubles for the day and sleep well. Again, as the Lord Jesus said, “Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day” (Mt. 6:34).

Action starter: For what and for whom would you sacrifice your convenience?

We would rather picture the Lord as a gentle and peace-loving carpenter of Nazareth than a controversial Rabbi and a fiery Prophet. Perhaps, we would rather picture Him dying peacefully in bed than violently on the Cross. The reality was that Jesus suffered terribly and died a bloody death in the hands of violent men. This would not have happened had He lived in a quiet, peaceful, and less controversial manner.

This Sunday’s Gospel shows us another image of Jesus (Lk.12:49-53), “I have come to bring fire upon the earth and how I wish it were already kindled. Do you think I have come to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” This is not the face of a sweet, gentle Jesus. This is the fiery, passionate, and crusading Christ. This is the Anointed One who takes up the struggle for justice. This is the prophet who speaks the word of God even when it hurts. This is the rabbi who stands uncompromisingly for the truth. He spoke the truth and He paid the price.

Although we wish our lives to be more peaceful and strife-free, there are instances when we have to face tensions and struggles for the sake of a greater value. This was the experience of the Prophet Jeremiah in the first reading. He was arrested and placed in a well because the people did not like the warnings that he was voicing out. Our personal convenience may be set aside for the sake of justice and truth. Our night of rest may be disturbed when there is a crisis in the community. Even our lives may be sacrificed for the sake of our loved ones, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Jn.15:13).

In this time of floods, I remember a fellow priest and my former student, Fr. Cha Colendres. At the height of a typhoon, a flood was rushing through his parish. He led rescue operations to evacuate people who lived along the river. The flood waters with its debris of logs caught him and carried him away. He was found dead the next day. He was brought home from Infanta Diocese where he volunteered and was given a hero’s burial in our hometown in Midsayap, Cotabato.

St. Paul pictures this life as like that of athletes competing in a stadium surrounded by a “cloud of innumerable witnesses” or the sports audience, “Let us look to Jesus the founder of our faith, who will bring it to completion. For the sake of the joy reserved for him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and then sat at the right of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). They have undergone the discipline and made great sacrifices to be able to win the prize.