Twentieth Sunday of the Year, Jeremiah 38: 4-6 & 8-10; Hebrews 12: 1-4; Luke 12: 49-53 (Year C)

Faith and the calculation of human prudence are incompatible. This is the inescapable conclusion of the Scriptures, and a consideration that cannot be ignored during this Year of Faith.

From the moment of his calling the prophet Jeremiah had been warned that faith would bring him into conflict with Jerusalem’s establishment.

“Do not be afraid of confronting them, for I am with you to rescue him.”

With the passage of time Jeremiah would be reviled for his stubborn insistence on the justice and fidelity demanded by true faith. He would become a laughing stock, the object of insult and derision. In today’s first reading insult and rejection finally became open violence.

“Let Jeremiah be put to death: he is unquestionably disheartening the city, and all the remaining people by speaking like this.” As a result of mounting opposition Jeremiah was thrown into a muddy well and left to die.

Whilst faith must always have compassion for a sinful world, it cannot compromise fidelity so as to placate that world. We, like Jeremiah, must be willing to accept that faith is costly, and, with him, entrust the outcome of any resulting conflict to the Lord.

“I waited. I waited on the Lord and he stooped down to me, he heard my cry.” Jesus, describing his ministry, prepared his disciples for such conflict. “I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were blazing already!”

The fire that Jesus described was an all consuming commitment to the Father’s will, a commitment that did not flinch from opposition.

Few of us have the stomach for conflict, especially when it comes close to home. We are easily swayed by the argument that commitment must always be peaceful and never divisive. Jesus confronted such compromise head-on.
“Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on the father will be divided from the son, son against father, mother against daughter.”

It is difficult, in practical terms, to know how we should respond to such words in the day to day living of family life. At the very least we must be willing to give an account of our faith and the values that underpin such faith. This is painful when those values conflict with the lives of those we love. Such witness must always be tempered by humility and compassion.

The Letter to the Hebrews proposes Jesus as our inspiration in times of conflict.

“Let us not lose sight of Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection: for the sake of the joy that was still in the future, he endured the cross, disregarding the shamefulness of it.”

Our faith is indeed frail, but its strength is not reliant on what we find within ourselves. Christ himself has walked in faith, and, through his trust in the Father, was raised above the frailty of his humanity. It is the same Christ who leads us in faith and brings our faith to perfection.

Christ himself is the strength that we cannot find within ourselves, the enabler of the tiniest mustard seed of faith.