Not a whole of people like “change.” It means to “barter.” When I barter for an item, i can raise or lower the value. Then, I get “change” back. But the word has other meanings. It means to be different, to do something different. In Gospel terms change is setting the world on fire. Fire destroys structures. Fire snuffs out lives. But many good things can rise from the ashes. Ever notice the seal of the archdiocese of Chicago? The symbol on the coat-of-arms of the archdiocese of Chicago is the phoenix rising from the ashes of the Chicago fire of 1871. Even J. R. Rowling (rhymes with “bowling”) uses the image of the phoenix in the Harry Potter series.
The ironic thing is that the more we become fire the more enemies we make in life. Someone is bound to hate us because of our zeal. Someone is bound to be jealous that they did not think of fire first. Someone is bound to gossip about us and unravel all the vision we built up from the ashes.
When we are on fire a great a cloud of witnesses surrounds us. Elijah was on fire for God and Queen Jezebel condemned him to death. Amos was on fire for God and Amaziah the priest mocked him and told him to go away. Hosea was on fire for God and everyone gossiped about him because his wife was a prostitute. Daniel was on fire for God and they tossed him into the lions’ den. Jeremiah was on fire for God and the princes of Jerusalem convinced King Zedekiah that the prophet demoralized the people with his preaching. So they tossed him into a deep water hole where they hoped he would starve to death. Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa were on fire for God and we ignored them. Jesus was divine fire incarnate and they crucified him.
Why do we think that the Gospel is always a Gospel of nice sayings or a Gospel of peace? “Sometimes,” Jesus says, “I’ve come to sow division.” And the biggest divisions are those in our own households.
I am convinced that if everyone likes us we may not be preaching the Gospel. Truth hurts and when we speak the truth to power people get burned. Most often the burnt people will be us who speak out. This is what it truly means to carry the cross. As you and I speak the Gospel truth, people begin to look at us with strange eyes. And as we live the Gospel, as we preach the Gospel, slowly they get out the nails, and the crown of thorns, and the ropes, and the wood. This is what it means to be a witness to Christ- ready to hang from the cross as we remind our fellow Christians that bombing, taxing, lethal injecting, dining, aborting, voting, driving and praying are all moral acts.
You and I have a great cloud of witnesses who remained on fire for God. They surround us. According to the Letter to the Hebrews, Jesus is the author and end result of our faith. Those saints who go before us believe it. The Eucharist strengthened them and it will strengthen us also.
The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.
The 20th Sunday