Did you hear about the dentist who married a manicurist? Yeah, they fought tooth and nail.
A century and a half ago President Lincoln was upset about the way plantation owners were enslaving people. The owners said in effect, “Too bad, because that’s the way it is.” What if Lincoln said, “Well, all right. If that’s the way you want it, I’ll just have to go along.”
That’s now what happened, is it? Lincoln said, in so many words, “Here’s the Emancipation Proclamation. Now all people are free.” There was a fire for justice and right burning in his heart. And the long history of slavery in our land came to an end.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn was upset about the political oppression in his country, the Soviet Union. The political leaders said in so many words, “Too bad, because that’s the way things are.” What if Solzhenitsyn said, “Well, all right. If that’s the way you guys want it, I’ll just have to go along.”
But that’s not what happened it is? Solzhenitsyn continued to write and teach. He was imprisoned and eventually deported. But there was a fire for freedom and human dignity burning in his heart. And eventually, thanks to his courage and the courage of many others, we witnessed the downfall of Communism in Russia.
Jesus tells us today, “I have come to set the earth on fire.” And he has. There are many people today whose hearts are on fire…
for the rights of the unborn,
for the preservation of the earth,
for the dignity for marriage,
for the end of nuclear weapons,
for the needs of the poor.
As one observant person remarked, “There never was a statue erected to someone who let ‘well enough’ alone.”
Jesus words in today’s gospel are not easy to hear. We usually picture Jesus as being gentle and peace loving. But today he is saying that he came for division, that father will be split against son, and daughter against mother. Not a happy picture.
I love the word “peace.” I long for peace. I treasure peace. I picture people sitting around a warm campfire, roasting marshmallows, singing songs, telling stories, a gentle breeze blowing… Everybody at peace. I don’t like to see people at odds with one another, quarreling, raising their voices, especially families.
What was Jesus talking about when he talked about division? Well, as always, he knew what he was saying. He was surely a man of peace, but not peace at any price. He knew that for those who chose to follow him, it would mean standing up for what is right.
This will often bring great tension, yes, even division. Some will lose their family inheritance. Some will lose their political careers. Some will even lose their lives. The early martyrs did. And in our time, many are still martyred for the faith.
Jesus believed in an outer peace that comes from doing what is right for others. He believed in ani nner peace that comes from being true to oneself. And he believed in an eternal peace that results from a passionate commitment to his Father’s will.
Heaven? No wimps allowed. You want a taste of heaven on earth? Only the brave need apply
In the Old Testament, we have many examples of people on fire, “trouble makers” like Jeremiah and the other prophets. We have the example of the apostles and early Christians who shook up the Roman world they lived in.
Besides Abraham Lincoln and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, we have a long list of people like Patrick Henry, Mother Theresa and Rosa Parks. And we have the example of everyday heroes, people who, on fire with love, sacrifice to raise their children, care for the sick, minister to the bereaved, reach out to the poor, teach, heal, speak out… The list goes on and on.
The fire the Lord is talking about today is very powerful. It burns down walls of prejudice and injustice. It lights up our world with forgiveness and love. The fire the Lord is talking about leads husband and wife to commit themselves to each other totally and forever, starting with a burning love and continuing with glowing embers.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin stated: “Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man (humankind) will have discovered fire.”
I still envision the warm campfire with a cool breeze, people sitting around roasting marshmallows, singing songs, telling stories…
This day I wish you -- both a blazing fire, and a gentle breeze.