August 14, 2022 at Saint William Catholic Church in Naples, FL
Jeremiah 38, 4-6, 8-10 + Psalm 40 + Hebrews 12, 1-4 + Luke 12, 49-53
I have always liked these Gospel verses most of which are only given to us in Luke’s Gospel. I like them because they expose the shallow silliness so often suggested to us by cheap art that makes Jesus look like a nice, long-haired sissy. If these verses make anyone uncomfortable with their image or relationship with Jesus, it’s time to deal with it.
In the various ways I have served the church in the past, I have come into contact with priests and lay leaders of the church who for various reasons have become ineffective. They have turned into robots who just go through the motions required, fleeing at the first sign of conflict, and avoiding the consequences of their avoidance or inactivity. We know this condition and call it “burn out.” I’ve often thought it was better to burn up than burn out, better to burn up than rust out. Jesus was not suffering from burn out, and neither can any of his disciples.
The conflict he speaks of, and the conflict he experiences is basically the conflict that inevitably comes from denial – the denial of truth. We all know how hard it is sometimes to hear, recognize, and accept the truth; the truth about ourselves, the truth about our behavior, and the truth about the consequences of that behavior. The conflict that Jesus experienced and the conflict he predicts comes from one thing: the truth.
Jesus was a truth teller, and many people in power, many people who have grown comfortable in their privileged ways, many people trapped in attitudes, ways of thinking about themselves and the world get upset when the truth comes along and their denials no longer work.
That old saying: “The Truth will set you free” is right on target, because people who live the truth about themselves are very free, and there is nothing more free than the “Truth Tellers” of this world. With nothing to lose and nothing gain, those who are really free know who they are and who they are not. They know what they are and what they are not, and there is no hint of denial in them at all. In a sense, these people are real prophets, and prophets are not obsolete or just historical figures out of the past.
We live in a new age of prophets and truth tellers who do way more than just inspire us. They teach us and invite us to step more deeply and more freely into the truth. In our own life time, prophets who tell the truth get silenced like Jeremiah who was thrown into a cistern to silence him. Martin Luther King who told the truth about justice was silence by a bullet. In this year, Mexican priests who had thrown in their lot with a poor man seeking asylum from the drug mafia were silenced first by kidnapping and then by death. A priest from my own home Diocese was murdered by the Army of Guatemala after he publicly asked them: “If you are here to protect us, why are my people disappearing. That did not happen before you came.”
There is another way to look and listen to the images of today’s Gospel. It might suggest that instead of that destructive fire Jesus came to light, it might be a desire to fire us up, light us up, warm us up to get up, speak up, and even act up for the sake of truth always after we have faced the truth in ourselves. Those who live in denial of any truth, but especially the truth of the Gospel, the truth of Jesus Christ, and the truth about our faith and what it demands of us will, like those who ignored and opposed Jesus Christ, find the fire he brings destructive. However, those of us who embrace the truth about ourselves, our sin, our need, and our hopes will be filled with joy, on fire with the love of God with our eyes fixed on a Jesus who was anything but a long-haired sissy enduring the cross so that we may not grow weary and lose heart in our struggle to live in the light of the truth.