Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
The word fire brings about various responses and reactions. If right now somebody shouts at the top of his voice, “fire,” it will bring about a reaction of fear and panic to many. In the winter, in the forest, fire brings about warmth among the persons in the cold. Fire from an explosion will bring many scampering for cover.
Fire transforms everything that gets into its way; it heats up everything around it; it purifies whatever is placed in it. And come to think about it, the ash is a purified matter. In one of his sermons, St. Bernardine of Siena said, “When a fire is lit to clear a field, it burns off all the dry and useless weeds and thorns. When the sun rises and darkness is dispelled, robbers, night-prowlers and burglars hide away. So when Paul’s voice was raised to preach the Gospel to the nations, like a great clap of thunder in the sky, his preaching was a blazing fire carrying all before it. It was the sun rising in full glory. Infidelity was consumed by it, false beliefs fled away, and the truth appeared like a great candle lighting the whole world with its brilliant flame.”
Jesus brought that fire of God’s love into the world to transform us into Himself, to heat us up to preach and live His Gospel, to cleanse us of our sins and infidelities against Him and His Church, and to purify our motives in living the Gospel, our relationships and our responsibilities. A psalm-prayer on Friday of week 1 of the Liturgy of the Hours says: “Send the fire of your Holy Spirit deep within us, Lord, so that we can serve you with chaste bodies and please you with pure minds.”
Scriptures show us many instances of the fire of God’s love, and also His wrath, that He brings to His people:
– from Egypt God guided and protected His people with a pillar of fire, particularly at night, shielding them from the Egyptians;
– when Gideon was called by God to suppress the followers of Baal, God purified Gideon’s faith with fire over the goat meat and flour;
– God saved Lot and his family, and destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and sulfur because of their infidelity and sinfulness;
– Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego disobeyed the king to worship his god; they did not abandon their faith in God and were thrown into the furnace of fire that even swallowed up the men who threw them into the furnace, but protected Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego as they gave glory to God;
– at Pentecost God’s love, wisdom and power in the form of tongues of fire came down from heaven upon the Apostles, and the hearts of the people were burning with love for Jesus;
– at the cleansing of the temple, Jesus set the fire of His anger on those who were making the temple a marketplace;
– the two disciples on their way to Emmaus experienced that their hearts were burning within them as Jesus spoke to them and opened the scriptures to them;
– the Acts of the Apostles narrates to us instances among the believers of the fire of love to preach the gospel and live as community; and many more.
Today we experience among Churches and Christians that fire of love and God’s power to bring Jesus to the world. The Holy Father, our Pope, has been guiding us to return to God the Father and light up the light of life and show all men and women the way to the Kingdom. The recent World Youth Day in Brazil sent the young people on fire in the faith to gather and celebrate the presence of God in the world and in their lives.
What is Jesus asking us to do and to be: Pope Francis would say with fire in his heart: “Evangelizing means bearing personal witness to the love of God, it is overcoming our selfishness, it is serving by bending down to wash the feet of our brethren, as Jesus did…. Go, do not be afraid, and serve…. do not be afraid to be generous with Christ, to bear witness to his Gospel…. Bringing the Gospel is bringing God’s power to pluck up and break down evil and violence, to destroy and overthrow the barriers of selfishness, intolerance and hatred, so as to build a new world. Jesus Christ is counting on you! The Church is counting on you! The Pope is counting on you!…. Go and make disciples of all nations” (homily at the closing mass for the WYD in Brazil 2013).
The fire of the Sacred Heart of Jesus burns within us as we listen to His Word and receive the Eucharist. As Pope Francis urges us, let us go, be not afraid and serve others, and the peace of Christ will be with us.