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A Purified Love

By 17 August, 2019January 3rd, 2023No Comments
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by f. Luis Casasús, General Superior of the Idente missionaries. Jerusalem, August 18, 2019. Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Book of Jeremiah 38: 4-6.8-10; Letter to the Hebrews 12: 1-4; Saint Luke 12: 49-53.

The famous philosopher Diogenes was once sitting by the roadside, eating a bowl of porridge. One of his rich boyhood friends rode up on a white horse and wearing expensive clothes. He said: Diogenes, if only you would learn to flatter the king, you would not have to eat that porridge. Diogenes said: Oh, but you have it all wrong. If only you would learn to eat this porridge, you would not have to flatter the king.

The question is: What is really important to me? What is the priority and how can I live out the Spirit of the Gospel now?

Jesus was never tolerant neither of evil nor of mediocrity. Where many today teach tolerance of every conceivable kind of behavior, He draws a sharp dividing line between good and immoral actions. When we do this, with words or actions, we must not be surprised to find ourselves in conflict with other people in the community, in our family, and even in conflict with ourselves.

As is always the case, Jesus also experienced this kind of difficulties. There were some who received his message and followed him; but many others rejected his Word and sought to get rid of him. As Benedict XVI wrote: The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness. Jesus’ challenging words invite us to a life of greatness, not to lives of disturbance-free comfort. It is hardly peaceful, but it is holy and beautiful. Jesus warned his disciples: If the world hates you, remember that the world hated me before you. This would not be so if you belonged to the world, because the world loves its own (Jn 15:18).

Today’s First Reading represents a prime example of this situation.

In Jerusalem, in the year 586 B.C., the situation is desperate. The city is surrounded by the army of Nebuchadnezzar; the people are starving, but the generals want to resist at all costs. King Zedekiah does not dare to oppose their will. It is a dramatic moment and Jeremiah is the only one who does not lose his head. He is a man of peace, he reflects, is aware of the futility of armed resistance and suggests the surrender. His proposal provokes the indignation of the officers who go to the king and say: This man should be put to death because he is weakening the will of the fighting men… He is not out to save the people but to do harm. The king listens to them and eventually agrees. Jeremiah was imprisoned and thrown into a cistern full of mud.

It is the defeat of the prophet who feels abandoned by everyone: by friends, by family members and by God who even promised him protection (Jer 1:8).

But, unexpectedly, a righteous man comes forward, one of those they cannot silence in the face of injustice. He is called Ebed Melech, a foreigner, an African man who has long served the court of the King. He presents himself to Zedekiah and says: My lord king! These men have acted wickedly.

It takes some courage to utter such words, to go against the most influential people in the nation! The king listens to him and orders to set the Prophet free.

This event is not an isolated incident. All those who proclaim the word of God are always treated equally. Their message, sooner or later, clashes with the interests of the powerful and those who begin to persecute them, make every effort to silence them or even eliminate them: physical violence, exclusion, contempt, denigration, threats… Just think about how those who make evangelical proposals, call for greater transparency in the use of money, the renouncement of privileges, are treated, sometimes even by the brothers of their faith community.

But God does not abandon his persecuted, isolated, thrown in the mud prophets. He is always on their side, maybe provoking some simple, honest, courageous persons, as the Ethiopian Ebed Melech to lift the torch on high.

This is the experience of the author of the letter to the Hebrews. The community to whom he speaks is experiencing a very difficult time and they are tempted to abandon their faith. The difficulties started immediately after their conversion: they had been subjected to abuse, stripped of their possessions, imprisoned (Heb 10:32-34). Then the situation worsened to the point that their lives were in danger.

The author of the letter seeks to encourage them, invites them not to lose heart, not to give in because, he says this is a special occasion allowing them to show to Christ and their fellowmen their love and fidelity.

What is the fire that Jesus came to bring on earth? And what is the baptism that he must receive?

Baptism was that moment when Jesus received the mission from the Father. He described His mission in terms of fire and baptism, both of which speak of cleansing and purification. Fire is also a symbol of love. So both fire and baptism symbolize the purifying work of Jesus.

To baptize means to submerge and Jesus refers to his immersion in the waters of death (cf. Mk 10:38-39). This water has been prepared by his enemies in order to extinguish forever the fire of his Word, love and Spirit. It instead gets the opposite effect: it communicates to this fire an uncontrollable force. Jesus looks with anguish at the passion that awaits him: He will be overwhelmed by the waves of humiliation, suffering and death, but he knows that, coming out of these dark waters, on Easter Sunday, the new world will begin.

But there is more than that. A purification always means a transformation of something good into something better, perfected. This is the case of love. Jesus seeks also purifying our love, as it was announced by prophet Malachi: See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me (…) Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver (Mal 3:1-3).

John the Baptist announced the coming of the Messiah with threatening words: He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire. The chaff he will burn in everlasting fire (Mt 3:11-12).

Love, in the understanding of the world, is to say nice things about each other even if they are wrong. Hypocrisy and falsehood is often masqueraded as love. Euthanasia is done out of love for the sick, elderly and those whose life does not seem to have value anymore. Abortion is done in the name of love because they do not want the unwanted child to suffer. Casual sex is promoted in the name of love since both can enjoy each other.

But we know that it is a selfish love:

Euthanasia is practiced not because we do not want the elderly and sick to suffer any more but simply because we do not want them to be a nuisance and a hindrance to our freedom to do what we want. Love does not want separation, regardless of the person’s condition.

Abortion too is not for the sake of the unwanted baby but so that those who conceived the baby can continue to live their lives without any commitment and responsibility. Killing an innocent and helpless baby is not love.

Free sex is not love either, because love is more than mere pleasure gained from the body. Unless there is love, sex is cheap. Sex merely for pleasure degrades the person and his or her body, turning it to a thing to be used, manipulated and discarded. Sex and the body are sacred because they are the means to express intimacy and love.

Partiality, being respecter of persons, making difference between people and various forms of favoritism, are clear signs of our earthly motives and intentions.

Another symptom of our mixed intentions is our false humility, that sometimes leads to ridiculous situations:

Two ministers were working in a church. The senior minister fell on his knees at the altar rail, and said: Lord, have mercy on me, I am the greatest of all sinners! His assistant fell on his knees beside him and said: Lord, have mercy on me, I am nothing but evil from head to foot! Hearing them, the old caretaker, who was sweeping the church, laid down his broom and came forward and knelt beside them saying: Lord, have mercy on me; I too am a sinner, as you know, O Lord! The assistant turned to the rector and said indignantly, Look at this one! Who does he think he is?

A purified love is one that has been stripped of our desire to use other people, to gain fame, to flatter people for our gain and not their good, to talk about people for our gain and not with their permission, to take from others instead of giving. Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 13:3-10.

Even when we give our lives to others brings us joy and meaning, is not sufficient to satisfy our soul completely. We must live for life eternal. This is why Jesus says: I tell you solemnly, there are some of these standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming with his kingdom (Mt 16: 28).

We can afford to lose our earthly and physical life on this earth only because we want to preserve it for all eternity in the next life.

Hence, we must not only live for our fellowmen, we must live for God. And indeed, only when we live for God can we then live fully for our fellowmen. When we are motivated by purely humanitarian purposes, more sooner rather than later we find ourselves helpless. We are called to lose our life for His sake. Fullness of life is when we live for Christ so that we can live more for others.

To conclude, let us go back to anecdote of Diogenes with which we started: Do I know what my true intentions are? Can I pinpoint the motivation behind my acts of love? The Holy Spirit is continuously striving to purify mi intention, so that I can be a truly innocent follower of Jesus Christ.