The philosophy of speaking and
living by the truth often leads one to “stand alone”, and often times, makes
one to appear rejected. The reality of our world shows that many people are
afraid of speaking the truth, and of course, listening to the truth, because
speaking the truth often goes with a consequence; it costs a lot, even one’s
very life. According to St. Augustine: “People hate
the truth for what it stands for…They love truth when it shines warmly on them,
and hate it when it rebukes them”. In spite of this, the truth
remains “golden”; little wonder Christ says: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the
Life…” (Jn 14:6); this has a lot to explain to us why he was rejected by his
people who did not like the truth. Today’s Sunday’s reflection makes us to
realize that the Truth (Christ) sets the world on fire and brings about
division. How are we to understand this?
The Gospel reading (Luke 12:49-53) gives us a thought to ponder upon.
The full text of Jesus’ statement is: “I have come to set the earth on fire,
and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be
baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! Do you think
that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather
division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two
and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son
against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her
mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law
against her mother-in-law.”
These are shocking words –
especially coming from the lips of Jesus! The Prince of Peace declares that he
has not come to bring peace, but rather, division. This division extends into
the most intimate of relationships: the family. If we find these words
difficult and harsh, we are not alone. Jesus’ original audience (the Jews)
would also have been disturbed by them. Even more importantly, Jesus himself
was overwhelmed and upset by his message: “How I wish it were blazing already…
and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!” in order to understand
these passionate and disturbing words of Jesus, we must refrain from extremes;
put differently, we must not take it too literal. We ought to understand the
context at which he made those statements, thus understand its allegorical,
anagogical and moral sense.
Let’s examine the statement of
Christ. The fire that Jesus came to cast on the earth is properly understood as
a purifying and refining fire (allegorical sense). The prophet Malachi spoke of
the Lord being “like a refiner’s fire and like a fullers’ soap” (Mal 3:2) that
separates (i.e., divides) good from evil; purifying the good and destroying the
evil. This fire is cast upon the earth and it divides the faithless (evil) from
the faithful (good) – <moral sense>. Secondly, the baptism spoken of here must not to be
confused with His water baptism by John the Baptist (Matt 3:16). The baptism
Jesus speaks of in Luke 12 is a baptism that had not yet occurred. This baptism
is understood to be His death, burial, and resurrection (see Mark 10:38).
Thirdly, Jesus says he has come not to bring peace but division on the earth.
At first sight, this is a hard saying and it does not make any sense. Is Jesus
not the Prince of Peace? Did Jesus not say at the Last Supper that he was
giving his peace to his disciples, a peace that the world could not give and
that no one could take away? Did he not say, “Come to me, all you who labour
and are burdened and I will give you rest”? Was the final greeting of the Risen
Christ to his disciples in the upper room not “Peace be with you”? What then
did he mean?
The Greek words translated
“divide” and “division” (diamerizo and diamerismos) mean
exactly that. They mean division, disunity. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus expresses
the same thought in even more colorful terms “I did not come to bring
peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). The “sword”, in this text
does not imply bloodshed. It is a reference to the fact that the word of God is
“sharper than any double-edged sword”; it “penetrates even to
dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and
attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). God’s truth is a sword which
divides truth from falsity, right from wrong, good from evil, and much else. It
confronts us and requires us to make decisions. The way we make those decisions
can divide us. Jesus confronts us with the truth. He is “the truth”.
We have to respond. The way we respond divides us. We can either accept the
truth or reject it. If we try to ignore it, that is a form of rejection.
Dear friends in Christ, the Truth
will cause a division, and it will cause you to be persecuted and hated for
Jesus’ sake; it will cause you to be despised, ostracized, ridiculed, hurt,
betrayed, and even killed, by the same people claiming to be your brothers and
sisters in Christ. And not many people are willing to live, stand, and die for
the truth they know and believe is truth, because not many people are willing
to suffer for Jesus sake. What brings division in the family? It is Truth! Truth
causes division! For instance, if a member of a non-Christian family happens to
get converted to the Christian faith, there is a great possibility of rejection
by the other members of the family; they might think he is getting out of his
mind, and the family is divided because of this. Truth causes division! A
daughter who is pregnant wants to have an abortion. But her mother knows the
truth. The truth is that there is another person in the womb. No matter how
small — a person is a person! So the mother tried her best to save the child
and the daughter tried her best to get an abortion. In the process the two are
divided which brings the entire family to be divided as well. Truth causes
division! A father his son to refrain from his evil
ways because he means the best for his son. The son doesn’t see the truth in his
father’s advice, and as a result of that, they’re divided — father against son! The list is endless.
This reality of this Truth
is not disconnected from the First Reading. The First Reading from the prophecy of Jeremiah (38:4-6, 8-10) demonstrates the setback and the hostility
offered to Jeremiah because he prophesied the Truth.  The prophet
Jeremiah is generally regarded as one of the three “major”
Jewish prophets (the other two being Isaiah and Ezekiel). He lived from about
640-570 BC and began serving as God’s prophet during the 13th year of King
Josiah’s reign. Jeremiah’s long ministry would subsequently span the reigns of
five different Kings of Judah up till Zedekiah, the last king of Judah (597-586
BC). Over the course of his 40 year ministry, Jeremiah saw the abrupt fall of
the Assyrian Empire and the steady rise of Babylonian dominance in the Ancient
Near East. During Zedekiah’s rule, Jeremiah advised the leadership of Judah to
submit to Babylonian rule and not to look to Egypt as a political ally (Jer.
2:18,36; 37:7-8 ; etc.). Because of his doom-laden prophecies, which were plain
truths, Jeremiah was regarded as a fatalist and a defeatist. The leaders of
Judah rejected his message and regarded him as a traitor. His religious critics
(i.e., the Levites and Temple administration) regarded him as a false prophet. The
prophet Jeremiah clearly foreshadowed the prophetic ministry of Jesus Christ. Both
lived in a time of political upheaval and unrest for Judah. In a sense, both
were considered “prophets of doom” who became “enemies of the
Jewish state.” Both condemned hypocrisy and foretold disaster unless the
people turned away from sin and turned to God with all their hearts (Matt.
15:8; Jer. 7:9-15). Both were misunderstood and persecuted on the basis of
Truth by the people of their day. Both prophets were plotted against by the
citizens of their own hometowns (Jer. 11:21; Luke 4:28-30), and both were rejected
by the religious and political leaders of their day (Jer. 20:1-2; John 18:13, 24). 
Because of his radical prophecies of doom, King Zedekiah eventually arrested
Jeremiah and put him in the palace prison. (Jer. 37:11-21). It was in this
context that Jeremiah was plotted against and thrown into the Cistern (a
storage-well without water, only mud, and Jeremiah sank into the mud), as
presented by the First reading of today. Instead of heeding to the Truth
proclaimed by Jeremiah to surrender to the Chaldeans, the top officials of the Jerusalem
court approached the king with a contrary message. They claim that Jeremiah’s
message is “demoralizing
the soldiers who are left in this city and all the people; they claimed that
Jeremiah is not interested in the welfare of our people, but in their ruin.. So they ask King Zedekiah to punish Jeremiah with a
slow and painful death by having him cast into a cistern. That day, Truth prevailed over the
jealousy of politicians. In this vein, we see a prophet willing to risk it all to speak God’s message (THE TRUTH)
to the people, which set the kingdom on “fire” and created division.
Dearest friends in Christ, we are called to persevere in the Truth as the Second Reading from the letter to the Hebrews
puts it. Hence, our eyes should be fixed on Jesus, the leader and
perfecter of our faith, who endured the Cross and its shame. Hence, today’s
message is equally applied to us in our different spheres of life. Do you stand
by the Truth even at the expense of losing your job, position, friends, or your
loved ones? We are called not to lose
hope because the good Lord would surely hear our cry and “come to our aid”,
thus, delivering us from the pit of destruction as the Responsorial Psalm puts it. (Ps.
40, 2, 3, 4, 18)
Let today’s
message be our point of reflection throughout the course of this week; and may
the good Lord grant us the grace of standing by and for the Truth, even if it would
entail “standing” alone. Amen!

Happy Twentieth
Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C!


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