Meditation of the Most Rev. Pizzaballa for Sunday, August 14
August 14, 2016
XX Ordinary Time, Year C
“From now on …” (cf. Lk 12, 52), says Jesus in today’s Gospel.
And in saying it he expresses the strong awareness of those who know that his coming into the world produces a watershed, for whom it is evident that there is a time that ends and another that opens up. There is a before and an after.
“From now on…” We would expect: from now on, things will get better, from now on everything will be organized, from now on there will be bread, equality, justice and peace for all. But it is not so. Jesus does not reassure us and deceive us with false promises: he does not remove responsibility from us. These false promises would be an alluring program of certain politics, or we could identify them in the words of an expert lie, like the devil: in the Gospel of the temptations (Lk 4.1-12), the devil promised Jesus that from now on things could be done differently: well-being, success, power, security, could really be at hand, easily accessible, for all … But this is not the “from now on” of Jesus.
Indeed, paradoxically, Jesus seems to say that from now on things will be even worse! There is, as it were, a bond of necessity between the new that is opening up and the experience of pain, the drama of violence.
It seems that these elements of division and rupture may not be an exception, but are constituent features of historical time, from now on …
It is not the only time this happens in the Gospels. In another passage, always in the Gospel of Luke (16:16), Jesus says thus: “The law and the prophets were until John: since then the reign of God is proclaimed, and everyone is forcing their way into it.” Even in this case, it is evident that he is opening up a new time, where the watershed is John the precursor; and also in this passage the new time is inaugurated by an effort, by a struggle. And by saying perhaps the same thing, in John’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of this time as a birth (Jn 16:21).
But what does Jesus mean?
Obviously, there were problems, divisions, and misunderstandings already before He came; actually, they seem to accompany man from the beginning of his journey on earth. All this was already there, and this is not the change brought by Jesus.
What Jesus means is that His coming not only does not eliminate division, but rather creates a new, more profound one, capable of reaching each one even in its most intimate and sure bonds, family (vv.52-53). Because within the same family, it may happen that for some the Gospel will be the most valuable thing, and for another the gospel itself will be seen as the number one enemy to be eliminated. For some, the Face of the Father, announced by Jesus, will be a source of salvation, for others it will be only a cause for scandal. Certainly he will not leave anyone indifferent.
Even in our time, it is not uncommon to see how the entrance of the Gospel can create situations where you are exposed to suffering, loneliness and rejection. From the early martyrs until today, the Gospel causes division and rejection. Consider, for example, so many of our fellow Christians still persecuted simply because they are Christians, that is, of Christ, in the Middle East, in Asia, in Africa and in many places known and less known. It is a struggle that begins inside us, where the old and the new are at war, and you cannot hope to save and the one and the other: who enters this “from now on” must assume this risk … And we are invited to stay inside this rift in the style of the Lord.
We catch a glimpse of this style in the first verses of today’s Gospel (vv. 49-50), where Jesus described his mission with two beautiful images, that of fire and that of baptism. It is not easy to understand exactly what Jesus meant to say, but clearly it refers to his Passion.
We stop briefly on verbs that he uses: Jesus came to bring a fire; and he came to receive a baptism.
They are two actions, two attitudes, two necessary ways to the fulfillment of salvation: the first is active (Jesus casts the fire) and towards it He feels strongly attracted (Luke 12:49); and the second is passive (Jesus allows himself to be submerged), and this distresses him deeply (Luke 12:50).
Jesus will live them both: take the fire of the Spirit, of love, of God’s presence on earth. And then abandons himself to the annihilation by death, by the inhuman violence of his own brothers, without saving his life by any means, but by giving it to everyone.
Then – and only then – the Lord saves us, granting that in his life and in his death these two movements are not separate; indeed, the fire that Jesus brings, takes place while the water of violence and death submerges him.
And this is true for us also: it is losing life for love that lights the earth on fire. When, therefore, the mystery of evil comes out and seems to crush everything, right there, if one enters it with the trust of children, one fulfills a greater mystery, one concludes the judgment of God on man, and it is a judgment of salvation and mercy.
In short, from now on, whoever follows the Lord, whoever lives His Gospel, must pass confidently through death, and will see life happen; through separation, and will see unity happen.