August 17, 2013

Homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

In today’s Gospel Jesus says he came to bring not peace but division, and he gives a short catalogue of family conflicts. If this makes you uncomfortable, you are in good company. No one likes this passage.

After all, at every Mass we hear: “Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles: Peace I leave you, my peace I give you.” In that context, today’s Gospel doesn’t make sense, some may even find it offensive. Where’s the reconciliation we so often read about in the New Testament?

Matthew’s version of this saying is even stronger:  “Brother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise up against parents and have them put to death.”

This is not about dysfunctional families, but about family crisis—caused by choice. It seems the stuff of advice columns. But it’s not just any choice.

Jeremiah had enemies because he was saying what God told him to say, “Those who remain in this city shall die by means of the sword, starvation, and disease; but those who go out to the Chaldeans [i.e., surrender and go into exile] shall live. Their lives shall be spared them as spoils of war that they may live. Thus says the Lord: This city shall certainly be handed over to the army of the king of Babylon; he shall capture it.”

Jeremiah was accused of demoralizing the soldiers. That is not surprising. It is the normal reaction of leadership when any group protests against a war.

Jesus goes well beyond that. Here again Matthew is stronger: “You will be hated by all because of my name... One’s enemies will be those of his household.”

The choice is about Jesus. The name is that of Christian. Does this mean you aren’t a good Christian unless someone hates you, unless you have conflict? Clearly not.

This text reflects situations in which some acknowledged Jesus as Messiah and Savior and others did not. Historically, in both Jewish and Gentile families, faith in Jesus commonly led to conflict and persecution.

In the twenty-first century, the main source of conflict for Christians comes in the area of morality. Along with many Christian Churches, the Catholic Church takes unpopular stands on major moral issues. Her adversaries accuse her of meddling in politics, interfering in peoples private lives, oppressing various groups, etc.

It seems at times that anything negative said about the Church will be simply accepted without question. This creates a dizzying array of charges. The Church is both “inconsistent” and “legalistic;” “contaminated by worldly values” and “too removed from the world;” she has too much “sackcloth and ashes” and too much “pomp and ritualism.” No accusation is off-limits. As G.K. Chesterton wrote in 1908: “Any stick [is] good enough to beat Christianity with.”

Well, as the saying goes, “It ain’t easy. When Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you,” he added: “Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”

It is in that spirit that we can live out the exhortation of today’s reading from Hebrews, to “persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.”

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