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When Bad News Is Really Good News Too!

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The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe, Wk. XX-C, 14 August 2016
Jeremiah 38:4-6,8-10//Hebrews 12:1-4//Luke 12:49-53

There is an old saying in journalism that “bad news is always good news.” A classic example is that when a dog bites a man, it is not news at all but when a man bites a dog, it is news! This is because people are always fascinated with anything that is “shocking” that is perhaps one of the reasons that social media is all around us where everything is “caught on camera.” It sells so well that in media these days, we have sensational news, daring and bizarre telenovelas, flagrant reality shows, violent and sexy movies that are sometimes grisly, and lately, gross and irreverent comedies! But sad to say, the shocking truth in this age of “reality TV” is that instead of being grounded on life’s realities, people end up so detached from the truth, living their lives in fantasies or “virtual realities” that lead to more frustrations and miseries, even tragedies because shock value in media is simply to entertain and earn.
Shock values are good when they lead us to truths of life. Sometimes, we need to be shocked with the truth for us to move on with life like death of a loved one that we often deny or refuse to accept. Truth is always painful, even shocking, but once we accept it, that is when we grow! This is the reason why the Lord is so shocking today in His teachings that we wonder what is good with the Good News proclaimed.

Jesus said to his disciples: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” (Lk. 12:49-51)

Jesus is not scaring us with His shocking declarations today about discipleship. What is good with our Good News today is the assurance from Jesus Himself that we are on the right path if we are going through many hardships and trials in life as if there is a blazing fire and so many divisions among us! This He does in the most personal manner by speaking in the first person, declaring “I have come…I wish…I must…I tell you” to show His very involvement with us, in fulfilling His mission with us His disciples. It is very rare in the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke that Jesus is presented speaking of Himself in the first person to show union with the disciples and people. It is more common in John’s Gospel.

So, what does He mean with “setting the earth on fire”?

Remember it was only St. Luke who recorded in the Acts of the Apostles the coming of the Holy Spirit like “tongues of fire” during Pentecost in Jerusalem that filled the disciples with courage and wisdom to preach Jesus Christ. Fire dispels all darkness and gives warmth to bring out life in everyone. In today’s Gospel, Jesus is exactly speaking of the fire of the Holy Spirit that would come only after He had gone through His “baptism” He is so eager to undergo which is His Passion, Death, and Resurrection (pasch/Passover). When we hear the expression “baptism of fire,” it refers to our hurdling of difficult situations in life that taught us to be wiser and better persons. It is an initiation indeed where we “passed over” great obstacles and challenges in life or career and emerged victorious. The Lord’s shocking declaration shows His intense desire to illuminate the world with the light of the Holy Spirit to be freed from darkness of sin and evil. In today’s context, Jesus remains ardent in accomplishing this mission with us that He invites us every Sunday for Holy Communion in the Mass. See how the baptismal font in modern churches is situated near the sanctuary to show that our Baptism is perfected in the Eucharist. It is in Baptism where we make that “passing over” from death into new life in Christ Jesus as children of the Father filled with the Holy Spirit, vowing to reject Satan and his evil ways. This we renew and perfect every Sunday in the Holy Eucharist when we join the whole congregation in communion with Jesus Christ as His Body to go and fulfill His mission to proclaim the Good News of salvation.

But how can we work with Him through others in this mission of evangelization if there would be division among us? “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” In the Holy Mass before Communion, we cite His very words from St. John about His gift of peace that we have to share with one another while six weeks ago (June 03, 14th Sunday), we said peace is the only valuable of any disciple of the Lord that must be shared with everyone we meet. The key to understanding this shocking passage is found in the story of the Prophet Jeremiah in the first reading. A prophet is often described as a “sign of contradiction” to the people because in being the spokesman of God, he always goes against whatever is popular but sometimes immoral and sinful. The Israelites were so fed up with Jeremiah’s calls for them to repent and change their ways, for them to trust more in God than in their riches and powers that they threw him into a cistern to die of starvation. But God did not abandon Jeremiah and he was rescued upon orders by the king. In Jeremiah we find a figure of Jesus Christ like in our martyrs who chose to suffer and die for what is true and good. In going against the people, Jeremiah like Jesus and the martyrs were separated from the rest only to be one with God in eternal peace and in joy. So, it is not bad news after all!

Sometimes in life when the “going gets tough,” we have to make distressing and painful, even tragic choices that lead into divisions among us especially when a loved one is going astray. Separations become inevitable not because we do not love the persons but simply because we refuse to participate or tolerate their wrongdoing. The sad thing about it is that we who truly love them, we who choose to stand by the Gospel are the ones who suffer more for them because of the pain we have to bear in seeing our beloved’s lives wasted. How we wish the fire of the Holy Spirit would illuminate the darkness within them to enable them to pass over such episodes of sin and folly. May we heed the advice of the author of the Letter to the Hebrews to keep our “eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith… In your struggle against sin you have not resisted to the point of shedding blood.” (Heb.12:2,4) Again, there are times that it could reach that point of shedding blood like Jesus and the martyrs but that is when we truly experience peace and joy (Heb.12:2) in the Father’s presence. In these rainy days when more dark clouds hover above us, let us fix our eyes on Jesus to see the good news behind all these bad news. Amen.

Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Parokya ni San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista
Gov. F. Halili Ave., Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan.

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