If you did not have a chance to listen to Bishop Robert Barron's message on today's Gospel, you really should take the time. The link can be found here.
There is a theme that ties all of today's readings together and Bishop Barron sums it up nicely in his opening line: Authentically religious or authentically spiritual people will always be opposed. This is a theme that runs through the Bible and up and down the history of the Church. Why? Bishop Barron points out that we live in a world turned upside down. When someone comes along speaking the truth from God's perspective, the world views that person as crazy and dangerous. A case in point is the prophet Jeremiah in today's first reading. Jeremiah was telling the people of Israel to surrender to Babylon and this was not a welcomed message. In response, the people threw Jeremiah in a cistern and left him to die.
Bishop Barron challenges us to think about what would happen to us if we consistently and publicly spoke the Word of God to our culture? He gives examples of speaking out against abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, human trafficking, rampant materialism, ideological secularism, or any other tenet of Catholic social or moral teaching. How do you think you would be treated? Is there any doubt that you would find yourself being thrown into the "social cistern"? The cultural elite of our time would do exactly what the cultural elite of Jeremiah's time did to him.
You might even encounter resistance to the message within your own family. Jesus spoke directly about this in today's Gospel. He spoke about dividing families, pitting father against son, and mother against daughter. Can this really happen? Do you have a sibling, parent, or child who is away from the church or not practicing their faith? Do you ever try to talk to that person about coming back? Is the conversation unifying or divisive? I recently had this experience with a distant relative (who is Catholic), who told me that matters of faith are personal things that should be kept to oneself. Instead of keeping silent, I responded and politely said that this was not the story of the Christians in the New Testament. They proclaimed the Gospel and Christ crucified. My relative then suggested that the role of evangelism is reserved to priests. Again, I politely pointed out that every baptized Christian has a duty to build the Kingdom of God by striving to become more holy and to proclaim the Good News to others. Did I convince my relative? Probably not. And while I was polite, the conversation was most likely divisive. And so it goes.
What is this fire that Jesus speaks of? Bishop Barron warns that we should should not domesticate this message or turn it into some nice metaphor about illumination. According to Bishop Barron, Jesus is speaking of a devouring fire. He goes on to state that Jesus' word burns things up, reduces things to cinders, and clears things out so that new things can grow. A "get along attitude" is never something that Jesus calls us for. Bishop Barron points out that the call to love others does not mean that we should have a bland indifference to things. If you are not against anything, then you are not for anything, Bishop Barron argues. He states that love is willing the good of the other. Thus, it involves passionate opposition to what works evil in the other. Bishop Barron gives the example of the brush fires in California and how there is brand new growth after the fires have cleared out all of the dead wood and underbrush that has accumulated over the years. This is the effect that the Word of God can have on our own lives and on the lives of others. To speak a word of love is to speak a word that is "incendiary" and that clears out the clutter.
Bishop Barron explains that in order to establish the Kingdom of God on earth, Jesus has to destroy and clear out certain things. Think of this in terms of what holds us back from leading more holy lives. Is it our attachment to worldly goods? A few weeks ago, Jesus spoke the parable of the rich fool. His message should light a fire so as to burn up our attachment to wealth, power, pleasure and other things that hold us back. In the second reading, we are told to "rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us" so that we can persevere in running the race. What is this race? It is our everyday lives as disciples and followers of Christ. The metaphor of a running a race is a great analogy. Distance runners do not wear things that weigh them down, such as backpacks. They rid themselves of any excess weight so that they can run with ease. Let the fire of Jesus' word burn away those things that are holding you back. Be like the disciples on the road to Emmaus who, after their encounter with the risen Jesus, said: "Were not our hearts burning while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?" Luke 24:32. Yes, exactly! Let the fire of the Divine love consume you.
Bishop Barron concludes by stating that the one who dares to light a fire on the earth will meet the prophets fate. We can end up in some very low places, such as a cistern. But the second reading also encourages us to remember that there is a "great cloud of witnesses" who are watching us run the race and cheering us on.