Homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
Theme: Holding on to Jesus
By: Fr. Mike Lagrimas
Homily for Sunday August 18 2019
This true story came from a Filipino priest in New York City, Msgr. Oscar Aquino. He hired a Filipino as janitor and maintenance personnel of the parish. One day, the worker asked the priest if he can bring home a scrap stainless pole, which he thinks the church does not anymore need. The priest readily approved the request and in the afternoon, the man took the piece to the subway train. The pole was rather long, and he had difficulty finding a space where he could lay it down in the train. So he just decided to hold it in an upright position. As passengers came in, he was surprised that they also held on to the pole, presumably thinking it was one of the vertical bars of the train. The man reached his station, but he had to leave the train without the pole. A dozen passengers were still holding on to it! Imagine the look of surprise on the faces of the two or three passengers left holding the pole! They were all the while holding on to something baseless and without strength.
Figuratively, this is what is happening to a lot of people nowadays: clutching on to something ephemeral and temporary. They hold on to their money, position, power, loved ones and possessions, only to be left out in the cold, for these are all passing away.
Once and for all, we have to realize that there is nothing on earth that is lasting than Jesus Himself: “I am with you always until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20). And to top it all, He is our ever-faithful friend: “I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father” (Jn 15:15). He does not intend to abandon and let go of us. His friendship is constant and everlasting.
But can we say the same thing with regards to our friendship with Jesus? How faithful are we to Him? Or do we readily leave when the going gets rough, or turn away from Him when we get some attractive offers from the world? How steadfast is our faith in Him?
These questions are what the readings today pose to us. These are intended to examine and challenge our faith. In the first reading, Jeremiah was thrown into a muddy cistern because he refused to give in to the king’s wishes. Despite knowing the dire consequences, he boldly preached the truth that God wanted him to proclaim. He was faithful to God until the end. He refused to surrender his faith. His example is given to us as an inspiration in living our faith especially in these trying times.
The second reading takes a similar theme. The people to whom the Letters to the Hebrews was addressed were tempted to give up the faith. They felt it was too demanding, and too difficult for them. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews challenges them to turn away from sin and to “persevere in running the race”. He even put them to task for all their complaining. They had not yet resisted sin to the point of shedding blood. Instead of complaining, they should keep their “eyes fixed on Jesus…[who] endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken His seat at the right of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2-3).
In many instances in our life, we may have been like these people scolded by the author of the Letter to the Hebrews. That is why the Gospel this Sunday intends to shake our sluggish faith. In a straightforward manner, Jesus speaks of fire and division. What does he mean?
At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came down as tongues of fire on the head of the apostles. After that great event, the apostles were never the same. It is this fire that Jesus brings. It purifies, transforms and renews: “Come, Holy Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.” It is the fire that Jesus hopes will ignite our lives and consume all selfishness and greed in our hearts so that we become zealous apostles of the Gospel. As Cardinal Arinze said during one of his talks in Manila, “You cannot inspire unless you are on fire!” And when we talk of fire, many are afraid of burning out. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta has this to say: “It’s better to burn out than to rust out.” This is what the New Evangelization is all about.
Furthermore, it is fire that sets things and persons apart, just as fire separates gold from its alloys. So, Jesus talks of division – “a household of five will be divided, three against two, and two against three.” Following Jesus is not a walk in the park. It entails carrying our cross, facing severe opposition and persecutions, and even the real prospect of offering our life in sacrifice. It calls for commitment and heroic loyalty. The Gospel of Jesus is the Gospel of Truth. And there are many people – some of them could be members of our own family – who do not like the Truth. That is when divisions set in.
The war is on. There are two camps. This Sunday, we are invited to examine our life. Since we are Christians, we are supposed to be on the side of Christ. We cannot compromise with the other side. And there is no middle ground: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me, scatters” (Lk 11:23).
Admittedly, fear is what prevents many people from taking a clear stand with Jesus. We cannot openly speak against immorality, afraid that people may accuse us of being intolerant and judgmental. We choose to keep quiet about our Catholic faith because we do not want to offend the Muslims, Protestants and atheists. We decide not to get involved when a crime or accident happens because we do not want to be in trouble. We carefully choose our words and meticulously observe politically correct language in order not to hurt or insult others. And we simply cannot speak the truth because it hurts.
It’s time to realize that we cannot continue trying to please everybody, for we simply cannot. It’s time to take a stand. We are for Jesus. And with him, we are sure of victory. The war is raging. But victory in Jesus is ours. “Do not be afraid; just have faith” (Lk 8:50).
Let me close with the following words of encouragement from Pope Benedict XVI:
“Dear friends, may no adversity paralyze you. Be afraid neither of the world, nor of the future, nor of your weakness. The Lord has allowed you to live in this moment of history so that, by your faith, His name will continue to resound throughout the world.”
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
St. Michael the Archangel Parish
Amsterdam St., Capitol Park Homes
Matandang Balara, Quezon City