We have reached the middle of August and it seems that summer is coming to a close. No, the hot weather is surely not finished with us, but the academic year will begin soon. Students are moving into apartments and residence halls here. Classes begin on Monday. We’ll start our weekly Thursday gatherings in just over a week. I am looking forward to gathering with students for song and prayer and exploring the gospel again.
The gospel reading for this week is the kind I enjoy exploring with students. It is a tricky passage that contrasts with so many of the previous gospel readings where Jesus heals and welcomes and offers a vision of a loving and accessible God. This week, an impatient Jesus talks about bringing fire to the earth, divisions among people, and interpreting signs of the time. It can be a little unsettling.
If we were gathering this week, I’d probably ask student to think three different things in their lives: fire, divisions in their families and friend groups, and weather. Exploring ways elements of a passage show up in our own lives can shed light on what Jesus is saying. We’d surely talk about how fire can bring both destruction and new life where it burns, and consider how the image reflects Jesus’ eagerness to transform the world with new life. There would certainly be lots of conversation about divisions among family member and how growth or change in beliefs for values can lead to conflict and discord. We’d talk about weather and that interpreting what is coming can be a help in facing the elements as well as how looking at the world around us through Jesus’ call to love neighbor and enemy, care for the poor, forgive others, and work for justice helps us to faithfully follow him despite challenging situations.
This is not an easy passage. This impatient Jesus is eager for dramatic change. As he asks, “Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth?” we realize that the call to follow Jesus challenges us deeply. Clearly he is eager to see the world transformed by the priorities of his teachings.
Following Jesus was hard back in the first century, and it is still hard now. It will always be a struggle, for loving God with our heart and mind and soul, and loving our neighbor as ourselves is an impossible task. The job will never be complete, and we will consistently fail at it. Yet Jesus knows that, and still calls us to follow. Despite our shortcomings and failings, God is transforming the world through you and me, and through countless people across the globe who are also responding to God’s call to love and serve others. Countless followers of Jesus kindled by love and justice are helping to bring God’s transformation to the world.
Peace to you, as we transformt the world.