20th Sunday C
Sunday 14th August 2022
The Gospel Paraphrased
There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.
This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased
Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I have come to cast fire across the land, and how I wish it were already kindled. I have a baptism in which I am still to be immersed, and I will be in distress until it is fulfilled.
Are you presuming that I am going to give peace on earth? Oh, no, I am telling you, rather division. From now on, if there are five in a household, they will be divided: two against three and three against two; father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in law.’
The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.
This Sunday's Psalm
Ps 39: 2-4, 18
I waited, I waited upon God,
and he stretched out to me,
having heard my cry.
He lifted my from the horrifying pit,
from the miry mud,
and set my feet upon rock
making my path firm.
He is putting a new song in my mouth,
new praise to God.
Many shall see this and be in awe,
placing their trust in God.
I am poor and needy, yet God hovers over me.
O God, you are my help and my rescuer, do not delay!
Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.
This Sunday's Prayer
Loving Jesus, you were filled with passionate desire for your Kingdom to be fulfilled, in spite of the suffering you would endure. Give me some share in your passion for the fullness of God to come upon this earth. May my life burn with your love.
The Commentaries Summarised
As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.
This Sunday's Commentary
This text follows immediately on the text of last Sunday’s Gospel where Jesus had exhorted the disciples to be alert, like slaves waiting on their Master’s return. Now Jesus breaks out into a forceful exclamation regarding his ‘passion’. Indeed, in the language he uses desiring his passion, he shows the very alert, eager attitude he had been recommending to his disciples. The term ‘passion’ can be variously interpreted. While we readily apply it to Jesus’ forthcoming suffering and death, his Jewish readers would also understand it to apply to the Judgement of God, where the true nature of all people will be revealed, where evil will be punished, good rewarded and God would become all in all. Both interpretations probably hold here. The term ‘baptism’ is used twice – as a verb and as a noun, stressing the forcefulness of the coming time of passion and transformation.
The radical nature of this ‘passion’ is shown in the effect it has on that most basic of units of Jewish society: the family. Commitment to Jesus and to Gospel values will cause division within the very heart of society. As his followers commit to him, other family members will be distressed and division will occur. Note in the examples there are three sets; father/son; mother/daughter; mother-in-law/daughter-in-law. These align with the differing relations that a man or woman would know in their lifetime. A son would always live in relationship with his father, while a woman would live first with her mother and then in the household of her mother-in-law.
This Gospel text is one of those difficult texts which we struggle to understand. We readily assume that good family values are an integral part of our Christian faith yet here we have Jesus quite sanguine about the disruption that commitment to him can cause. Indeed, in the Roman Empire, one of the objections to Christianity was its very power to undermine the family.
Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.
This Sunday's Exposition
One of my sisters tells a delightful story about a pub discussion she had on religion. Much heat was being generated, when the person she was in discussion with, inadvertently I must say, shed light on what was the crucial difference between them. He said, ‘Look, I think religion is important. You just shouldn’t let it dominate your life.’ She did.
His opinion is indicative on the common attitude to religion and faith in our society: it is an optional extra that we can add (or subtract if we are busy or a better offer comes along) in our schedule. Like gym membership or art classes, it can enhance elements of our being and make us feel good about ourselves. Besides, it can fill in time and we can make good friendships. The violence perpetrated in the name of religion only underlines for people of his opinion the danger of taking religion passionately.
For the follower of Christ, ‘passion’ is the very stuff of commitment. The attachment to God and to Christ forms the ground of the believer’s existence. Following the one who went so willingly to his suffering and death, the believer is given the ability to face, with grace, suffering and even death, knowing that all can be transformed by God. Sustained by God, the believer can look on all situations with a different eye. The believer knows that God judges, not as the world judges, but with an eye to the fullness of life in eternity. The believer holds that each has been created uniquely and given a unique call. When a believer holds to and lives by such beliefs, others can feel threatened and even reject the believer. But that is no grounds to turn away. Indeed, it is a challenge in the very difficulty of the situation to show the passionate transforming love of God.
Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.
This Sunday's Reflection
If one solely read the Letters of the New Testament, particularly the Household codes, one would be forgiven for believing that a central tenet of the Christian Faith was to maintain a happy family. Care and compliance are strongly recommended. Division is interpreted as a form of sin. Generally speaking, such an attitude has been adopted by the Christian Churches. So this Sunday’s Gospel comes a quite a clanger and we can struggle to understand what it means for us. If one comes from a family resistant to Christian values, it makes sense. But what if one comes from a family whose lives and values are shaped by the Gospel? What does it have to say to such?
Quite simply, commitment to Jesus overrides all other commitments – even to that most basic form of relationship: the family. Even with the most happy, the most congenial of families, a person can a distinctive calling, a stand taken in conscience that goes against the callings and stands generally accepted within that group. In a very real sense, Jesus’ words offer consolation for all in such a situation. Divisions will come – even in the best of families – and we must be prepared for them. Yet in spite of our differences, even divisions, we can still chose to love and to be loving.
Looking at art works or movies is a great way to open ourselves to the meaning of the Gospels. Seeing can bypass our preconceived notions, giving us new vistas of enlightenment. With painting or sculpture one needs to sit quietly and absorb the dynamics of the piece. The drama of movies more easily engages us and offers a way to conversation about the Gospel with other members of your family.
This Sunday's Visual Meditation
There are virtually not images for this Gospel reading though the following two images try to capture the image of ‘fire’ in a spiritual context.
– Jan Richardson’s Salted with Fire (Click red text)
– Pippa Blackall’s Fire. Follow the link to view the image. (Click red text).
- The Mission
- Gran Torino
- The Straight Story
The purpose of mulling meditations is to offer a few ideas that one can mull about while doing other occupations. There are many things we do in our day that do not require our full attention - some things which are largely done on automatic pilot - like driving a car or peeling the potatoes. While we give these our attention, part of our mind is still at work mulling on other things and unless it is given something positive to feed on, we easily feed on negative thoughts. Personally I find mulling time the most likely time for God to get through to me. Because I am not so conscious of myself, God gets through the cracks and opens my heart to look at life differently.
Two practical times for mulling can be when exercising and when driving. Some small preparations for integrating such prayer into these exercises can be helpful.
As you do your preparatory stretches, pray the line of the Psalm "I praise you God for I am wonderfully made!"
Similarly when doing your concluding stretches use the prayer of St Clare "Praised be you, my God, for creating me!"
Have some music that you find helps you turn you mind and heart to God and play that for the first 10 minutes or so of your trip.
This Sunday's Mulling Meditation
As you go through this week, mull on how your ordinary life could burn with the passionate love that God has for this world. In what small ways, could your actions radiate this life?
In the Letter of James, we are told that the Scriptures are like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. In this type of meditation we take a piece of Scripture, hold it before us and consider what echoes within our heart. These echoes help us to see who we are before God and how we are loved. What usually echoes in us are situations that we are dealing with in our lives. When something strikes us, we do not actively try to solve the situation or work it through. Rather we sit holding it in God's love. The point of such a meditation is to make space within the situation for God's love to be. In 'sitting with' such a situation, painful or sad, we come to recognise the love of God that is at work on our lives. The suggestions for Mirror reflections can also be used for Exercise reflections but wouldn't be advised for Driving Prayer as often some degree of emotion or distraction might rise in such prayer.
This Sunday's Mirror Meditation
Rest in the love of your God.
Division, misunderstanding and even breakdown of relationships are part of every human life. Ponder on some divisions that have occurred in your life. What has been their cause? Misunderstanding? Selfishness? Or perhaps a parting of the ways due to differences in commitment? Has your commitment to Gospel value ever been a cause? Bring the pain of such a breakdown to Jesus and ask for his healing wisdom.
Rest in the love of your God.
Suggestions for the Programme
The elements of the programme can be used in any way that helps your prayer. The suggestions below are fairly simple ways of using this programme.
Become conscious of your God
Hymn or poem
Reading of Gospel text
Mulling over a reflection
Become conscious of your God
Reading of Gospel text and reflection
The programme can also be used for Staff Prayer. How you may put together such a prayer would be influenced largely by the size and dynamics of your staff. For example, a smaller staff group might be able to use discussion of a movie as a way of exploring the meaning of a Gospel.
A painting illustrating the Gospel could be displayed on an interactive board
Reading of the Gospel
Invitation for share reflections
Reading of part of the Gospel
One or two of the mulling themes
Time for reflection
- As a Fire Is Meant for Burning by Ruth Duck
- Only this I want by Dan Schutte
- When I Survey the Wondrous Cross by Isaac Watts
- Take Up Your Cross by William Charles Everest