20th Sunday in Ordinary Time | Year C
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were blazing already! There is a baptism I must still receive, and how great is my distress till it is over!
‘Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on a household of five will be divided: three against two and two against three; the father divided against the son, son against father, mother against daughter, daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law, daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’
For the people Jesus was talking to, making the decision to follow Jesus was going to make them different to their families. These first disciples were going back to families who did not necessarily understand what had happened and how life-changing the experience of meeting Jesus had been.
Family and friends had several choices – they could follow the new disciple into a life with Jesus, they could tolerate the new found fervour in the hope that it would wane, or they could actively discourage this new development. When a family felt its way of life was threatened by the change that one of its members had undergone, active discouragement, potentially leading to division, was the most likely outcome.
An encounter with Jesus may take many forms. It may happen in prayer or the sacraments, in a retreat, in knowing the goodness of another, in the experience of bereavement or birth, in a homily or music – the list is endless . There are many ways in which the passion of discipleship can be fanned into an interior flame which has the potential to lead to life-changing decisions. It is often surprising.
The disciples who accompanied Jesus to the mountain top and witnessed the Transfiguration had to return to their ordinary lives among people who had not shared the same experience. The flame of a transformative experience is at its most vulnerable when it is carried into the company of those who see no reason why anything should change. These may be our best friends and family members who do not act out of malice, but out of a natural desire to maintain the status quo.
Slipping back into routine and responsibilities can have a dampening effect on a newly ignited interior fire if we don’t take steps to protect it. Reflection on the experience and an honest attempt to hear what Jesus is saying are vital first steps in keeping the flame burning, building it up in an interior and private way so it will survive. There is always the possibility that Jesus may call us out of comfort – or even sin - into something which is much more demanding, and which requires change. If that is the case then at some point the change in us will become evident to the people we are close to. It is a time of vulnerability but also of grace, a time that can be negotiated with love and respect but which may mean a period of discomfort or even division. It is a time to remember that “for those who love God all things work together for good...” (Romans 8:28).