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Go Ahead, Call Down Fire

The 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time

When James and John saw these Samaritan villages refuse to welcome Jesus because he was going to Jerusalem they asked the Lord if they should call down fire from heaven to consume them. The Gospel says that Jesus turned and rebuked them. What do you think he said? Part of me gets a laugh out of imagining Jesus just stopping and saying, “Really guys? Have you been listening to anything that I’ve said?”, and then continue walking on shaking his head and muttering something to himself. But the other part of me looks at what he says next and wonders if this became a very serious moment of teaching. I wonder if Jesus stopped and said something like, “instead of naming what discipleship isn’t as this town rejects me worry about what discipleship is, because tongues of fire will indeed come down from heaven but it is you that it will consume.”

The second half of the gospel gives us an image of discipleship and following after Christ that is all consuming. First someone promises to follow Jesus wherever he goes. This extreme promise of dedication is not met with reward or praise from Jesus, but a warning: the Son of Man has no place to rest his head. To follow me means leaving behind you comforts and your places of safety and refuge. Jesus calls another person to follow him, who asks that he be given time to bury his father. Jesus says let the dead bury the dead. There is no reasonable cause for delay once you have been called to this life. And then the last person promises to follow Jesus if he can just have a moment to say goodbye to his family, but Jesus replies that anyone who would look back at what they are leaving behind is not worthy for this path. The image of discipleship here is one that absolutely consumes one’s life. There is no safety, no comfort, no place of rest in the life of discipleship. There is no time to delay, no looking back. And guess what we have chosen in life? The life of discipleship. Being consumed by the fire from heaven.

And the message of my homily today is that I want you to understand that we don’t merely accept the fact that being Christians means giving over our lives completely… we go beyond acceptance and instead pray for this to happen. Today we, with one heart, are soon going to pray this intention, and we do so at every mass. Today I plan to use the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer and in it I will pray, on behalf of us all, “Lord… grant in your loving kindness to all who partake of this one Bread and one Chalice, that, gathered into one body by the Holy Spirit, they may truly become a living sacrifice in Christ to the praise of your glory.” Other Sundays you might hear me use the Third Eucharistic Prayer, which says “grant that we… may become one body, one spirit in Christ. [And] may he make of us an eternal offering to [the Lord].” Make those words the intention of your own heart when I say them today. Be present to this gift of the mass, and pray that we all may truly become a living sacrifice in Christ to the praise of the Father.

There is an ancient principle that what we pray is what we believe. This is our prayer. The mass is our prayer and we believe what we say. We have already died with Christ in baptism and received the flame of the Holy Spirit alive in our hearts by the gift of Confirmation. Now we pray that what was begun by God may be completed and that not even the smallest part of our lives may be withheld from the consuming, the demanding life of discipleship.


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Homilies are meant to be heard, not read… and part of the Eucharistic liturgy, not words that stand alone. Please remember that no homily is written with this blog in mind.

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