HOMILY FOR TWENTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C. Readings: Jeremiah 38:4-6.8-10; Psalm 40; Hebrew 12:1-4 and Luke 12:49-53.

During my seminary days, one of my classmates, constantly said, “No matter what, I will continue to say the truth till I die” and jokingly we add, “na truth go kill us.” Standing for the truth has led many to suffer in the hands of conspirators. Have you suffered conspiracy from friends or family? It is evil, and the liturgy of today urges us to fight against it by following the footsteps of Christ who came to bring fire upon the earth, in order to purify, transform and save us from the perils that afflict us.

A week ago I received a WhatsApp message from an unknown author which read, “If you destroy someone’s character with a lie, yours will be destroyed by the truth.” This is evident in today’s first reading as the conspirators of Jeremiah were exposed. Jeremiah fought against evil and suffered for it. He stood for the truth even when his life was at stake. His message brought discomfort to the King Zedekiah and the army leaders. To this effect, the princess of Judah asked King Zedekiah to execute Jeremiah. So, their best option was to conspire and get rid of him. To an extent, they succeeded but God came to his rescue. God did not allow him to perish in the hands of the unjust, but rescued him through Ebed-melech who stood for the truth and exposed the conspirators of Jeremiah as he said before the king, “My lord the king, these men have done evil in all that they did to Jeremiah the prophet by casting him into the cistern…” (Jer 38:8-9). The psalmist presents the case of a just and true man in a beautiful way for us saying, “I waited, I waited for the Lord and he heard my cry. He drew me from the deadly pit, from the miry clay” (Ps 40:2). God is ever ready to save his servants who are just and innocent.

Many of us have suffered and are still suffering like Jeremiah because we stand for justice and truth. People have turned against us in conspiracy, at work, school, church, and among family members. The moment we choose to be Christians, we already have opposers who are prone to conspire against us. Just like the case of Jeremiah, let us be assured that God will never abandon us. The case of Jeremiah is the more reason we have to intensify our prayers for religious leaders and all who stand for the truth that the good Lord will make haste to help us from the hands of conspirators.

Sometimes, God’s servants are accused of the exact opposite of the truth just as Jeremiah was accused of not seeking the welfare of his people, but their harm. Moses was a remarkable man (Nm 12:3), but was accused of pride (Nm 16:3). Job was a righteous man (job 1:1), but was accused of great sin by his friends (Job 4:7-8, 8:20). Christ was a spotless Son of God and was accused of being possessed by demons (Jn 7:20, 8:47, 8:52). Similar to the first reading, the second reading encourages us to emulate Christ during difficult moments in life, who endured his cross, despising the shame and now he is seated at God’s right hand. Each time we suffer unjustly, let us remember Christ’s experience.

Christ in the gospel set our hearts ablaze with the statements on fire and division that provokes some questions. What could Christ mean when he said, “I came to cast fire upon the earth? Do you think I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division…” (Lk 12:49. 51). Are these statements not contradictory to Christ himself, the Prince of Peace, who comes ‘to guide our feet into the way of peace? (Lk 1:79). Is this statement of division not contradicting the unity of Jesus Christ the Son of God and the Father when he said I and the Father are one?

We recall how God used fire and brimstone to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:24) and how Elijah called down fire on fifty soldiers in 2Kings 1:9-17. Also was the call of fire to destroy the sacrifices in a challenge with the prophet of Baal (1Kings 18:38). Could it be that Christ wants to destroy us too by fire? No, the fire is different. Fire can be a metaphor for purification (Lev 13:52; Nm 31:32; Mal 3:2). The fire could be the judgment to come upon the people in the following decades. In Jewish thought, fire is almost always the symbol of judgment. The fire Christ spoke about could also be the fire of the Holy Spirit that could only come after He had accomplished his work on the cross, as he rightly said, “I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished!” (v. 50). This fire could also be the spread of the good news and the coming expansion of His kingdom across the globe by bearing witness to the truth, which could not happen until he has accomplished His work on the cross. It is the fire of love.

Hence, we must not be afraid of the division caused by the word of God which may likely lead people to conspire against us as in the cases of Jeremiah and Christ our Lord. The truth will always bring division among people of evil plans and the fire will consume every injustice, immorality and vices. It will burn all fears and enable us to bear witness to the truth. Bearing witness to the truth could attract enemies of truth to capture us, kidnap or put us in cisterns and could even cost us our lives. One thing is certain: God will never abandon us, for He never abandoned His Son on the cross, even in the grave He is Lord.

Happy Sunday!

Fr. Ken Dogbo, OSJ

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