From the Archives of Fr. Metzler’s Homilies: 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

Not to Bring Peace Upon the Earth

Jeremiah 38: 4-6, 8-10   Hebrews 12: 1-4   Luke 12: 40-53

    Our readings for today remind us that there are some things worth being ostracized from others over. This is readily apparent in our first reading today.   God called the prophet Jeremiah to speak to the religious and political leaders of his country—their prophets, priests and their king, King Zedikiah.

   Jeremiah preached what sounded like an unpatriotic, seditious, and judgmental message: “Stop giving our people reckless lies and false hopes.” He said. “Stop betraying them with your delusional messages of comfort and hope. National disaster is just around the corner.”  To speak so bluntly, wrote Jeremiah, made his heart break and his bones tremble.

    For his twenty-three years of faithfulness to God’s call, Jeremiah got what you might expect. He was beaten, received death threats, imprisoned, thrown down a well, and derided as an unpatriotic crank and a traitor. Almost no one listened to him, but in the end, history proved him right. In 586 BC Babylon ravaged Judah and Jerusalem, just as Jeremiah had warned.

   The gist of the false prophet’s message was self-centeredness and denial: “You will have peace;” they said. “No harm will come to you!”; and, “Our nation is an exceptional people, special to God and his purposes, so he will protect us.” For Jeremiah this was a distinctly religious problem of national proportions; the very survival of Israel was at stake. And he preached his message bluntly. But nobody thanked him for that.

   Jeremiah also warned about the deeply personal failures that were bringing destruction, coincidentally, the many modern day myths and slogans in our culture that encourage our own selfishness. Jeremiah called these “reckless lies” and “false hopes.” He compared them to bad dreams. so deeply entrenched in our culture that no one questions them.

   These reckless lies and false prophecies epitomize sin and, in today’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us that a part of His mission is one of judgment and division. Jesus borrows the image of fire, itself a symbol of judgment, to make his point. This division can even enter into families where members will turn against each other. Then Jesus uses even stronger imagery. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have come, not to bring peace, but a sword”.

   It is important to note that despite the strong imagery of these passages, Jesus never resorted to violence against others and he never encouraged his followers to resort to violence. But this passage begs the question of why Jesus would want to use such violent imagery when he himself was so very peaceable.

   One reason could have been to remind us that a life lived as a follower of Christ will inevitably lead to conflict. Jesus is certainly the “Prince of Peace,” but that is far different from peace at any cost.  The peace that Jesus sought to bring, first and foremost, is a peace with God.

    Such a peace will lead to peace among humanity.  Godly peace flows first from a life lived in communion and obedience to God and then outward to the world around us. God’s distinctive peace is not always welcome and is often met with violent resistance. Jesus’ words are a warning for those who take a life of discipleship too lightly.        Elcindor Johnson

    He gives examples of family unity which will be split. This doesn’t sound very appealing, certainly not to me. Who would want to follow such a prophet as Jesus, who, like Jeremiah, is calling for a decision to surrender which might – no, which will — cause separation even within loving families?

    I know of a family whose teenage member has declared that he is an atheist. Well, Atheism is a God-given right. What is probably going on, though, is that the mother and father are no longer to be considered as gods and lords of this young-person’s life.

    Jesus is asking for a more thoughtful decision to follow Him and His ways. The big decision is to move outside the city-walls of our senses, to become more defenseless, to leave ourselves subject to the protection of God in our lives. Trusting, walking into the dark, going without knowing, is a tremendous breach of our present-day cultural ways. It is much easier to follow Him from a safe distance and not have our lives changed by His relationship with us.

    Jesus keeps attentively calling us all outside the security of what we know and into the life of real living and real loving. Love is the commitment that costs a great deal and yet results in such insecurity. Who would want that as a way of living?    (Larry Gillick, S.J. Creighton University)

    Conversion is a lifelong process, and not something I can cross off my to-do list next week, next month or even next year. Augustine’s prayer is the most authentic: “Lord Jesus, don’t let me lie when I say that I love you. . . and protect me; for today I could betray you.”

    It’s a very short step from loving God to lying to him and to yourself. So, I honor those many believers, the saints, as St Paul tells us, who “did not receive the things promised,” at least not in this life, and who yet did not succumb to the “sweet dreams and reckless lies” of false prophecy.

    Live Christianity somewhere between the two Bens — televangelist Benny Hinn, who peddles the “false hope” of name it and claim it—that is, all one needs is just to pray in faith and God will give you what you need.  At the opposite extreme, was Ben Franklin. This Ben was some sort of a deist, someone who believes there is a God, but that God is not personally involved in our welfare. Ben Franklin had a firm belief in a good and generous God who was a deity, but his god was an absentee landlord who didn’t stoop to involve himself in the petty affairs of every day life. Don’t expect Ben Franklin’s god to intervene in your life or answer your prayers.

   Don’t listen to Benny Hinn or Ben Franklin. Jeremiah would say that God’s word comes to both of them as a great destructive surprise, like a fire to straw or a sledge hammer to rocks.

   So, whether God calls you to endure floggings or to proclaim great sermons, to tame lions or quench flames, pray to be truly appreciative of God’s caring love for you in every Struggle and in every Joy.  (Dan Clendenon)

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