The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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August 10, 2001 Issue
Fr. Ver Bust's Column:
"Explaining the Gospel"

Fr. Richard Ver Bust
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 rational.

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 and faced.

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 us.

(Fr. Ver Bust holds the title of professor emeritus in religious studies at St. Norbert College, De Pere.)

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