Setting the World on Fire

Reflection for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time by FAN executive director, Patrick Carolan

This reflection was originally posted in our August 8th newsletter


FireI have often found this Sunday’s Gospel reading from Luke to be one of the most disconcerting and challenging. Jesus is frequently referred to as the Prince of Peace. Yet here he is talking about setting the world on fire and setting brother against brother. That does not sound much like the “Prince of Peace” to me. I used to wonder why this particular verse was chosen to remain in the final edited version of the reading. Because I have found this verse so challenging I have spent a lot of time reflecting on it. Particularly the section: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” Gospel literalists have interpreted that sentence to mean that Jesus literally wants to set the world on fire. Many are waiting for that event to happen. Believing that Jesus will come to destroy God’s beautiful and wondrous creation with fire and then start all over again with a new heaven.

When I was a kid I would often ask my teachers and my priest “what kind of God would be so cruel that he would destroy his own creation and causing millions upon millions to be tortured and suffer? What kind of God would promote fear over love?” As I got older and began working in social justice, I began to look at the passage differently. I began to feel the passion for justice blaze inside of me. I wanted to set fire to the whole world. Not a literal fire but a fire of passion so that people would start to care about the poor, the marginalized and all of creation. When I saw a homeless person I would get angry and want to scream at society, how you can sit idly by while people are homeless and starving?

Luke’s Chapter 12 where this Gospel comes from starts with the sentence: “Beware of the leaven—that is, the hypocrisy—of the Pharisees.” Who are the Pharisees today? In Matthew 15 Jesus says, “Hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy about you when he said:

‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines human precepts.’”

How true are the words of Isaiah today. We have politicians, running for the office of president on down, who claim to be Christian, claim to honor God with their words yet they preach a message of hate and fear. Because we spend time honoring God with our words, not our actions we are a house divided. We can live in our comfort zone and never transform. As it says in the second reading, “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.”

Peace and All Good,
Patrick Carolan
FAN Executive Director

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Published in: on August 9, 2016 at 9:17 am  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Who are the politicians preaching a massage of fear and hate?


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