First Reading: Jer 38:4-6.8-10; Psalm: 40. R. v. 14b; Second Reading: Heb 12:1-4; Gospel: Lk 12:49-53
THE FIRE OF TRUTH
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
“I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!” (Lk 12:49).
In the year 2012, a 15 year old Pakistani teenage girl Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head en route to school in her school bus. Prior to this assassination attempt, the Taliban placed a restriction on female education in the country which led to the closure and destruction of several schools. On September 1, 2008, at age 11, Malala gave her first speech against this discrimination. A speech she titled: “How Dare the Taliban Take Away My Basic Right to Education?” This courageous opposition to injustice won her the Noble Prize in 2014 and led to the lifting of the ban placed on female education in Pakistan.
On September 9, 2021, during her speech to the United Nations Security Council, she told her story captured succinctly in this excerpt: “I saw homes and schools destroyed. I was 12 years old. I saw injustice and I raised my voice for every girl’s right to go to school. I saw a gunman stop my school bus, call my name and fire a bullet at me. I was 15 years old. Now I am 24. I carry scars of six surgeries to repair the damage of that one bullet. This is a story that many Afghan girls may share if we do not act.”
What on earth inspired Malala to be at loggerheads with the dreaded Taliban at age 11? Where was her fear? I think for Malala what was right was what really matters and not her fears. When we understand how far truth, love, sacrifice and justice can go in making life better for our world, we will think less of our fears. Jesus did not accept the cross without fear and hesitation. However, these sceptical feelings were not what informed his choice to embrace the cross but the salvation of the world. And this is what Jesus wants from us today: an action motivated by the greater good. An action that can bring lasting positive change in our world today.
But this kind of transformative action is not possible without the ‘fire of truth’; that kind of fire that consumes us to promote what is right and just and can instigate division, reconciliation and growth. That fire that wrestles lies, deception, injustice and evil. Our world is in dire need of this fire. For there can be no change without truth and justice. When Jesus said: “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!” he was talking of ‘the fire of truth’.
In the scriptures, the figure of ‘fire’ is understood in different sense. Fire could be seen as a sign of ‘destruction’ (like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19:24) or ‘purification’ (in the sense of the Word of God purifying us as in Psalm 12:6), or ‘judgment’ (as in Hebrew 10:27 which recounts that the enemies of God shall be consumed by fire) or a sign of ‘God’s presence’ (as on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:3).
The sense in which Jesus used ‘fire’ in the gospel of today is in the sense of the ‘fire of judgment’. And there is no other way to face true judgment than to face the truth. So the ‘fire of judgment’ is the ‘fire of truth’. This fire is divisive for it separates the wheat from the tares, the righteous from sinners, and the truth from falsehood. If this fire must burn, the wicked must be uncomfortable and the righteous must be purified by the pain that comes with the truth they speak.
This fire of truth needs to start burning now. It was the wish of Jesus that it was kindled already. If the reign of God’s love must be felt here on earth, this fire must burn. If we are ready to combat injustice, corruption, hatred, and racism in our world, let this fire begin to burn. If we want to grow to maturity, develop a healthy human relationship, be good parents, build a healthy home and create a good working relationship with our co-workers, this fire must consume us. This fire of truth is the hallmark of every true Christian.
In the account of history, those who change the world are those who kept this fire of truth burning. For Malala Yousafzai, the fire of truth was the right of education for the girl child. For Martin Luther King Jr, it was equal civil right for all Americans irrespective of colour. For Mahatma Gandhi, it was the freedom of the Indians from the oppression of colonization. And for Nelson Mandela, it was the resistance of the apartheid.
Perhaps we have been hiding from the truth or scared to hear the truth all the while. But Jesus is saying that it is time to let the fire of truth begin to burn. Maybe it’s time to tell your husband or wife exactly how you feel about his/her attitude towards you and the family. Perhaps it’s time to walk away from that toxic relationship we have endured for years. Is your priest too rude, harsh, insensitive, or snobbish? Maybe it’s time you share with him exactly how you feel about his attitude. Are we overly considerate to the point of not wanting to hurt people’s feelings while things go wrong? This could be the time to come out of that shell and to tell that friend, co-worker, brother or sister the truth about them. If we are scared to speak or to accept the truth, then evil has defeated us.
Speaking the truth comes with some painful consequences. But we must not be scared of them for the sake of the greater good. Jeremiah had to face the wrath of the princes of Judah when he prophesied that Israel shall perish unless they surrender to the Babylonians. For this, he was thrown into the pit to die of starvation. But God saved him through the intervention of Ebed-melech. When we truly choose to bear witness to the truth, we will face the wrath of the world because the world is opposed to the truth. Little wonder Jesus hinted at the division this would bring even among family members.
Why then should we go on to set this fire of truth? It is because Jesus wants it burning. It is because we can only change our world when we stand for the truth. And only the truth can truly set us free. Our fears therefore should not deter us from witnessing to the truth because it is by doing this that we prove our true discipleship.
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Lord Jesus, may the fire of truth in us never go off. Amen.
Egbuonu Johnpaul Okey
Beautifully said! Well-done Padre.
More grace from God.
Very well done my brother. Remain blessed! Ig. Obinwa