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Reflection on the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted on August 14, 2022, by Kathy Wright SL

When I first read this Gospel it was perplexing. When Jesus says “I have come to set the earth on fire” I am reminded of the raging fires in the West and in Europe, and it is hard to attribute that to Jesus. And I can name a hundred examples of families of faith who are deeply divided on issues and politics. Is that a sign of Jesus at work in the world today? Perhaps it is a reminder of the cost of discipleship as well as the possibilities for being led astray.

This Gospel seems more like a prophetic reminder from Jesus of the human nature of the Church itself, with a prediction that there would be divisions among Church members and with non-Church members. And from the beginning the Church has had such divisions with disagreements on how much of the Jewish laws and customs should be included, who would be welcomed into the new Church, who would lead and how, etc.

Since this reading in Luke’s Gospel comes right after the one we heard last Sunday where we are reminded to be alert, vigilant and prepared, this must be part of what we need to be prepared for.  Perhaps in the past some of us have not seen such harsh divisions with such little respect for differing viewpoints, even among family members. But many of us have a lifetime of experience, stemming from our faith, where we find ourselves disagreeing with our government, our economic system and our American culture. We stand opposed to nuclear weapons production and use, inhumane immigration policies, homelessness, poverty, destruction of Earth, white privilege and more. We stand in solidarity, humility and in respect for others and for Earth.

We have the Scriptures as well as our experience to support us and guide us. Today’s reading from Hebrews reminds us that we can persevere because we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, both living and dead, who walk this same path and provide support and inspiration. We can each name saintly people in our midst and those who inspired us with their lives when they were with us. We can also turn to nature and to one another to be inspired and know God’s presence and power. All of these are God’s gifts to enable us to keep fear and despair from inhabiting our minds and hearts. These readings help me recognize my need for community, for a cloud of witnesses.

I do not know what would keep fear and despair away if I had been thrown in a muddy well like Jeremiah in the first reading. His salvation came from a stranger, a Cushite, who knew this punishment was unjust. As often as I have been helped by a stranger, for example, when I had car trouble or in my travels in Haiti and Guatemala, I am not sure how much faith I would have in the kindness and arrival of a stranger in a bleak and isolated situation like Jeremiah’s.  

So perhaps that is where I need to be more attentive and ready. And where I need to be aware of the possibilities that exist for me and be attuned to being that stranger for someone else in need. That is how we keep faith and hope alive, by being a witness to it for others. We, like most people, are both in need of a cloud of witnesses for ourselves, and part of a cloud of witnesses for others.  

It is often helpful for me to name those who are included in my cloud of witnesses and visualize them with me. I love the naming and remembering we do in November when we sing our litany of holy men and women. I recall that litany at times throughout the year and ask my cloud of witnesses to pray for me. 

I think the AA program is based on a cloud of witnesses who help each other each day. It also recognizes our great need for God or a higher power to keep us faithful and keep fear and despair from our minds and hearts. We know the power of a cloud of witnesses when they march against injustice or gather in response to a natural disaster. We are given a multitude of reminders throughout our lives of the value and need for a cloud of witnesses in our imperfect and struggling world.


Kathy Wright SL

Kathy, a CPA, joined the Sisters of Loretto in 1986 and continued her service to a variety of non-profits (including Nerinx Hall and Loretto Academy) and Loretto with her financial skills. She has enjoyed serving on many committees, including the Investment Committee, Guatemala Sister Community Committee, Executive Committee, Finance Committee and Forum. Kathy lived and worked in Haiti, where she fell in love with the people there. She now resides in Florida.