Homily for August 14, 2016Published:
20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
In the readings today, it seems that we are being asked to think about persecution and division. Jeremiah faithfully conveys God’s message to the people of God, but some of them did not like the message, so they unjustly punished and imprisoned him. In the gospel, Jesus bluntly says that he has not come to establish peace on the earth, but rather that divisions will arise because of Him. These divisions will occur even within families, the unit of society within which one ironically might expect to find the greatest unity. Elsewhere in this same gospel of Luke, Jesus goes even further. He said, You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. And indeed, one who does not have a sword, should sell his cloak and buy one.
At the same time, Jesus has elsewhere also repeatedly expressed and conveyed peace to his disciples: Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you, peace be with you. How do we reconcile these statements? It certainly seems to be the case that the peace which Christ brings and gives to his followers is not “peace on the earth” and of the earth, but a different type of peace. He even says as much. He says, not as the world gives peace, do I give it to you. What is the difference? Jesus’ peace seems to be an interior peace. With Jesus’ peace, our hearts will not be troubled or afraid, and we will not be worried or anxious about many things. Jesus’ peace is also connected to our knowledge of where He is and what He has promised He will do. It is based therefore on faith in Jesus and hope of what is to come. Thus, when Jesus conveyed His peace to the disciples, He also said, “I am going away and I will come back to you. If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father.” Since the peace that Jesus gives us comes from within, it can remain with us even when things around us do not go so well. Thus, it is not uncommon for holy men and women to express great happiness and peace in the midst of terrible external sufferings. In contrast, the world’s peace seems to be an external peace. It might be expressed by the proposition that if everything around human beings and in society is good, then human beings will be at peace with each other. However, reality does not seem to be so simple. When we attempt to base our peace solely on how things are around us, then we immediately face the problem of how unstable things are. Despite our best efforts, economies can crash, personal health can fail, accidents and disasters can destroy and kill; and we come to realize that we don’t have ultimate control over the things around us. Moreover, we are also taught, that from within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts: unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, and all the others. What cleanses and removes these from the heart is the grace of God and relationship with God, and not simply affluence or prosperity in society. And it is from all of these realizations that people can make statements such as: In a society where God is marginalized or forgotten, there will be no peace between people. And where Christ is not, there can be no peace. Where human beings reject God and no longer turn to Him in their hearts, there will arise all of the evils that have occurred in humanity through its history, because God in His love for us ultimately respects our free will either to accept or reject Him, and will not force us to follow Him. And since from the beginning, there have been those who reject God, hence there have been and continue to be divisions.
So, we recognize that Christ extends His peace to us, while also promising us that we will experience division with at least some other people, and even persecution. But perhaps more important than recognizing this reality, however, is knowing how to respond to it, and to this end, I offer a few reminders and suggestions. First is the admonition, do not return evil for evil, but conquer evil with good. Our response to division, opposition, and persecution, must not be evil in kind. This refusal on the part of Christians, to sink to the level and behavior of those who mistreat us, is one of the greatest witnesses to the world that we can give. And if we don’t, then we may lose our witness to Christ altogether. After all, if we love only those who love us, what good is there in that? Do not unbelievers do just as much? How are we then any different from them? But as we are told, be like your heavenly Father, who sends His blessings on the good and the bad. We ought to forgive those who persecute us. Pray for them. Greet them warmly. Be kind and generous to them, and not neglect them. Do we believe that good is greater than evil? Let us put this belief to the test and see if we cannot conquer evil with good, and thereby transform an enemy into a brother or sister in Christ.
Second, we need spiritually to equip ourselves for the battle, proverbially to sell our cloak and buy a sword. The sword of the Spirit, which we need to have, is the word of God. It is with the word of God that Jesus resisted the temptations of the devil, and with which Jesus also so often responded to his other accusers and persecutors. So, the more familiar we are with the word of God, the better we will be in this struggle, and it is incumbent upon us to continue to read, to study, and to learn the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church, and never to stop doing so. There is always more for us to know, and the more we learn, the more we know about Christ. And let us not neglect our defense either. Our shied is our faith, our helmet is salvation, and our breastplate is righteousness. We should make sure that we are not persecuted for doing wrong, but rather, if we are persecuted, let it be for the sake of Christ. For whenever anyone bears the pain of unjust suffering for the sake of God, that is a grace.
Finally, we need to act with perseverance. When our actions do not yield immediate results, or at least results soon enough for our liking, we are often faced with the temptation to become discouraged and give up our efforts. In contrast, Jesus has taught us that it is necessary for us to pray always, without becoming weary. What can help us in this effort to not become weary is to remind ourselves what Christ endured, and to think about what has been promised to us. As our second reading today said, “Consider how Jesus endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart.” “For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God.” Where the head has gone before us, so we also hold fast in hope that we will follow.
In this Eucharist today, may we receive the grace more and more to seek our peace from Christ and not from the world, so that we may remain at peace even in the face of opposition and persecution. And may God allow us by his grace, increasingly to conquer evil with good, for the glory of His name. Amen.
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