The 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time
18 August 2019

The ideas in this week’s Gospel reading are hard to understand because they do not conform to the usual conventions. How might we interpret Jesus’ seemingly angry words in verse 49? Should we take it as Jesus bringing judgment on earth? The following verses in Luke 9:54-55 do not support this interpretation. Additionally, we recall that when Jesus and his disciples were not received or welcomed in the village of the Samaritans, James and John said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But Jesus rebuked them. Today’s reading seems different, “Jesus recognizes that there is a divisive quality in his preaching” (Kelly, 701).

The lectionary proposes the reading from Jeremiah to accompany this Gospel passage, and this text can help us interpret Jesus’ words. With the story of Jeremiah as a “background scene” verse 49 takes on a meaning that sounds similar to his personal experience, Jeremiah describes his experience as a prophet, “If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in and I cannot” (Jeremiah 20:9). Jesus, in the Gospel says, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” For the disciples of Jesus, his message is also “like a burning fire shut up” in one’s bones. It cannot be held within, even at great cost.

Being faithful to the prophetic call, as was Jeremiah, is a risk. It is not a peaceful path. Luke 12:52-53 speaks of the divisions caused by the revelation of prophetic words, with emphasis on power according to strength of number and social location not only in the society but even in the most intimate circle of one’s own household! There’s the rub! Wieser notes that the disciples of Jesus were always divided, “an unstable group, torn and oscillating between different loyalties” (Wieser, 86). But which group is loyal to what principle? Who will prevail in the end? Is it the three against two or the two against three? There is no answer.

The seeming dissonance from what we expect to be the messianic age is rooted in the way Luke communicates who Jesus is. Kelly proposes that Luke perceived an unrealized eschatology, and this is what he communicated in the Gospel. He says further that, “As Luke reworks Mark and Q, he makes a conscious effort to put the eschaton where it belongs: the end of time. It is not that the final age will not come but that it will only come when ‘all things are restored’” (Kelly, 692). Maranatha!

For Reflection and Discussion: [1] What sustains you in the path of discipleship? [2] What are you most passionate about in life? [3] What is the vision that you hold on to that enables you to endure the task of bringing about the reign of God on earth?
Bibliography: Kelly, “Lucan Christology and the Jewish Christian Dialogue” (Journal of Ecumenical Studies 21:4, 1984); Wieser, “Community: Its Unity, Diversity and Universality” (Semeia 33, 1985).

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