FROM A READING FOR AUG. 14, 20TH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
'I came to bring fire to the Earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!...' -- Luke 12:49-50

Years ago, there was a horrible accident at one of our local amusement parks. A woman was thrown from a roller-coaster-type ride and killed.

The investigation following the accident showed her death was totally preventable. She simply hadn't been "locked in." The young man in charge of that function had been too embarrassed to tell her that, because she was overweight, he couldn't click the latch on the belt that would have held her on the ride.

Like that worker, many of us want to avoid situations that would create tension between ourselves and others. On one hand, he certainly avoided the tension which could have resulted from telling her she was too obese to be on that ride. On the other hand, his reluctance to speak out cost her life.

I presume from Sunday's three readings that God's prophets frequently find themselves in parallel situations. They're chosen by Yahweh or the risen Jesus to be the conscience of the people; they're to proclaim God's Word. Yet, as we hear in our Jeremiah (38:4-6,8-10) passage, there are good reasons they're often tempted to keep their mouths shut.

Killing the prophet
"Jeremiah ought to be put to death," the princes say. One way to make certain the prophet doesn't deliver God's Word is to kill the prophet.

Though Jeremiah is eventually delivered from the princes' hands, I presume every time he opened his mouth again to tell the people what Yahweh wanted of them, he remembered this near miss. The next time, he might not be so lucky. No wonder, in chapter 20, he wishes he'd never been born.

This "prophecy thing" is very important for Christians. The earliest Christian author, Paul, presumes each of our communities is blessed with at least one person who has the Spirit's gift of prophecy. He's convinced other Christs can't function correctly unless their members understand what the risen Jesus wishes them to do.

That seems to be one of the reasons Luke's Jesus (Luke 12:49-53) wants His followers to know, "I have come to set the earth on fire....Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division." Those who dare imitate Him must be aware of the divisions in society that such an imitation will bring about.

Perhaps that's why the unknown author of the Letter to the Hebrews (12:1-4) insists we constantly "keep our eyes fixed on Him [Jesus]." Only by focusing on Him will we be able "to persevere in running the race that lies before us."

Carry the Word
Before any of Jesus' disciples suspected He was divine, they were certain He was a prophet. Though He never demanded they imitate His divinity, they knew from the beginning that He expected them to integrate some of His burning, prophetic charism into their own lives.

Normally, we expect our sacred authors to tear into their readers for not listening to the prophets and carrying out their words. But, today, the author of Hebrews and Luke's Gospel tear into us for not being brave enough to proclaim even the small bit of God's Word with which the Spirit has gifted us.

Though the vast majority of us aren't "full-time" prophets, we frequently run into situations in which we say nothing where something should be said. We shouldn't pretend to be overly pious, but -- especially among family and friends -- neither should we hesitate to confront something like racial or prejudicial remarks.