Today, Jesus shares his mission statement with his disciples and with us. Why has he come? Jesus responds- I come to bring fire to the earth and how I wish this fire were already kindled! His words and his witness are the fire… So, let’s put this in context. As Jesus has travelled amongst his people in the Galilean countryside, what has he shared at this point in the journey?
Miracles, to be sure- cures for the sick, food for the multitudes, a gift of his presence too- for people not normally considered worthy of much attention- a tax collector, a leper, a sinner who three times insists on a blessing , a poor widow by the well. And he shares stories too, and in the gospel today Jesus tells us that he is stressed-out because he realizes these stories are sometimes only dimly understood by his hearers- why would, for instance a shepherd leave his flock of 99 to find the lost one? Intriguing, yes, aspirational too- perhaps a little far- fetched-though, right? And why would Jesus go out his way to call the rich man a fool? By his talents alone, the man has created an abundance of stored grain- he should not be mocked. And this too- while everyone deserves their due, who would be expected to believe that the last and the least, will someday be first?
As Jesus steadily advances towards Jerusalem he tells his disciples and us that his mission is a fiery one, counter to culture- “do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you- but rather division…” The division he brings is a message of peace to a people in conflict. The vision he brings- a banquet table set for all- is bound to create division in a place where the fittest, the finest and the strongest come first and count the most.
Jesus may realize the danger of his mission at this point. His message will face growing resistance, yet he will persevere. While weary, he will not rest long. While fearful, as he must be, he prays, and puts his trust in God his father.
Ultimately, as we know, his mission is one of sacrifice- at the cost of his life, we are gifted with his example. The risen Jesus and the Holy Spirit of Pentecost burns within us too- insisting that in the mission that we lead, in the race that we run, we will never be alone.
In the second reading to the Hebrews, the writer, perhaps Paul, tries to help us understand all of this, knowing that we too see dimly and are often tangled-up in our world of worries and distracting attachments. Paul invites his listeners into some peaceful contemplation, asking us, for a few moments at least, to put aside our worries, to put aside our anxieties and fears, all of our distracting attachments. In this more peaceful place, Paul then goes on to ask us to consider the “cloud of witnesses that surround us” in our lives- these are the saints, both the living and those passed on- who have graced our lives and inspired us by their example in a really personal way. When we call them to mind and reflect upon how they have lived their mission, Paul then nudges us further and reminds us that we too have a God-given mission set for us – a race to run.
What is my race to run? What is your mission in life? Paul asks us to think about this in a very deliberate way. He tells us that however varied our routes may be, however unique the journeys we may embark upon, each journey can and should be rooted in, and reflective of, the example of Christ- his fiery passion, his words and his witness, his insistence that all are welcome – that love should be our guide.
Like Jesus, like the saints that surround us, we know that participating in a race involves cost. The first reading today illustrates this well. In living his mission, and in speaking the truth to power, Jeremiah was imprisoned in a well, there left to sink in the mud. Do you suppose he despaired at his fate, doubted his call, felt the sting of loneliness and humiliation, feared for his very life?
Paul reminds us, and the psalmist does too, that trust is required for a long race, and so too is perseverance. So easy to say- but trust and perseverance are so difficult to summon when the chips are down, when the cause looks lost, when we feel stuck in the mud, when worries, anxieties and attachments cloud the way. Paul says this to us: do not grow weary or lose heart… Jesus, by his example, tells us that we are never alone.
One important aspect of my mission is my vocation- as a Catholic teacher. Next Sunday many of us Catholic teachers will be marching in the Capital Pride Parade under the banner of our Catholic teacher’s union. We will be joined there by many St. Joe’s parishioners too! We march to demonstrate that every student in our classrooms is welcome, valued and treasured for who they are- gay, straight, trans or questioning. We march in solidarity with those of us who are gay, proud of our Catholicity and assured of our place in the church. We march because our faith tells us that children must learn and come to know that they are wonderfully and uniquely made, in the image and likeness of God.
Jesus tells us that all are welcome and that the banquet table is open to all. In his words and in his witness, in his passion and in his presence here with us today, may we run, with perseverance, the race that is set before us- in faith, in trust and in love.