Fr. Ver Bust's Column:|
"Explaining the Gospel"
|Fr. Richard Ver Bust
Casting fire could mean punishment
All those who want to be disciples are challenged to be faithful
August 19, 2001, Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Richard Ver Bust
Sometimes the scripture will challenge images that we have had
for a long time. Our image of Jesus is probably of a very gentle
person. He certainly sought to be a peacemaker. Yet there were
times when we hear him challenge the leaders and the people of
his day. Today's Gospel reading does just that. He wanted peace
but he also knew that what he preached would, as he says, set the
earth on fire. He was not a revolutionary in the sense of the
Zealots nor in the sense of today. Yet his message was radical.
He preached a love that had no bounds and that love is not always
Jesus shows that he is burning with zeal that the Kingdom of God
will break into people's lives.
His mission of preaching about that kingdom has already provoked
those whom it threatens.
His radical call for change has made many uneasy. To cast fire
upon the earth could mean severe judgment or punishment. But
Jesus meant it more likely as the prophet Malachi had said in
terms of what is called a refiners fire which purifies that which
it touches. So the fire challenges those who want to be a
disciple to be a faithful one.
Jesus also speaks about a baptism he must face. Obviously he is
not referring to the baptism he had received from John. He is
talking about the suffering and death he must face if he
continues to preach his message. He believes it is the fate he
will have to undergo to accomplish what the Father has called him
to do. So it is a baptism of suffering and even death.
Christ believed that his message had and would continue to cause
division. He certainly wanted peace but he knew that his demands
would divide society. Those who were willing to accept Jesus
would not be accepted by others. The values Jesus demanded were
not those, which his culture thought to be important. Wealth was
often seen as being a sign of God's blessings. Jesus warned it
could be just the opposite and lead people from God. He
emphasized that the poor were no less loved by God.
Luke certainly knew that in his time those who became followers
of Jesus were then often ostracized by their families. He knew
that persecution of the faithful meant suffering and death. He
knew that being faithful to Christ was more important than any
ties of kinship. Animosity was often what being a Christian meant
Our first reading shows Jeremiah in his own time facing
opposition. People thought he was a traitor for opposing a war.
He was alienated as his writings tell us by his preaching from
those he thought were friends. It led to his being thrown into a
pit where his opponents thought he would die. He was rescued but
the enmity remained.
The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that we do not have to face
our struggle and journey alone. The author visualizes for us a
great crowd cheering us on. Using the metaphor of a race in a
stadium he tells us that those who have preceded us in life are
encouraging us to be faithful in running the race to the end. If
our goal is to follow Christ then we must keep him ever before us
as our model and acknowledge that he will always be with and for
(Fr. Ver Bust holds the title of professor emeritus in religious
studies at St. Norbert College, De Pere.)