20th Sunday in Ordinary Time – August 14, 2022 

Recently, I decided to “cut the cord,” that is, end my subscription to cable tv.  Given the dearth of interesting programming on cable, I chose no longer to pay for the privilege of having nothing to watch.  Instead, I rely now on over-the-air broadcast tv that can be picked up with an antenna.  Consequently, I have about the same number of channels as cable tv and the same number of uninteresting broadcasts. 

Based on my viewing experience thus far, it seems that about twenty percent of the over-the-air broadcast channels are televangelist shows.  I could be mistaken about this, however, because the televangelist shows are indistinguishable from the shopping channel shows.  I don’t know how to distinguish between the hucksters selling salvation and the hucksters selling cubic zirconia. 

In our culture, evangelization is merely a form of marketing.  Evangelists try to sell their audiences the idea that they need a particular denomination, or spirituality, or spiritual leader in order to be truly happy.  One could easily substitute one’s favorite air fryer, or serrated knife, or vegetable washing gadget in place of the religious goods and services promoted on television; the sales pitch sounds the same regardless of the product being advertised. 

Today’s Gospel reading offers a view on religion, faith, and evangelization that differs so profoundly from our cultural perspective that it might not be recognizable to us.  Jesus said, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” (Lk 12:49) 

Prophetic preaching and apocalyptic literature during Jesus’ lifetime often used fire as a metaphor to represent the radical renewal that God offered the world.  Fire always changes things; in the case of biblical apocalyptic (end-of-the-world preaching), the change is always the positive change of an end to sin and death and a new beginning of faith and mercy.   

When Jesus said he had come “to set the earth on fire,” he was describing himself as a catalyst for lasting change. (Lk 12:49)  In his preaching, he named this lasting change “the kingdom of God.”  The “kingdom” is the permanent, positive change that constitutes a renewal of faith in God, a new fidelity to the Covenant, and complete reconciliation with one’s neighbor. 

Jesus’ preaching about “the kingdom” was no sales pitch; he did not try to convince his audiences that they needed the product only he could provide.  Rather, he portrayed “the kingdom” as something attainable by anyone who was willing to acknowledge what God has already offered completely in the Covenant.  Instead of trying to sell an idea or commodity to the people who listened to him, he took a very different approach.  In his preaching, Jesus proclaimed God’s unfailing care for God’s People; then, he asked his hearers to abandon anything that prevented them from being faithful to God in the way that God was faithful to them.  

Jesus practiced his message in his own life.  He abandoned all earthly attachments in order to focus solely on accomplishing God’s will; in the end, he even abandoned his life into God’s hands.  After his death, Jesus’ disciples continued his mission of preaching and reconciling.  They, too, asked their hearers to abandon everything that would prevent God from effecting positive and lasting change in their lives.  Authentic evangelization is nothing more than this: to witness to God’s unfailing mercy and to invite sinners to abandon their lack of faith. 

The Gospel message continues to be proclaimed today, not by those with compelling sales pitches, but by those who give credible witness to the permanent, positive change that results from abandoning sin and turning toward God. 

It is the vocation of all the baptized to participate in the Apostles’ mission of preaching Jesus’ message of reconciliation and peace. If you are put off by the conventional, cultural notion of evangelizing as “selling” religion, you are well-suited to evangelize.  Evangelizing does not entail trying to convince anyone to buy into your individual spirituality or perspective on religious matters.  Nor does it require that you provide religious goods and services to those whom you evangelize.  Evangelization is nothing more than inviting non-believers to abandon the sin of faithlessness and to enter the renewed life that is God’s kingdom.   

A disciple’s work of evangelizing is not accomplished by making a compelling sales pitch; rather, it is accomplished by giving a credible example of repentance, faith, and virtue in one’s own life. 

You and I have a vocation to evangelize the whole world.  We don’t need to change the world, as changing the world is God’s work.  In order to be effective evangelizers, we have only to give a believable witness to the lasting, positive change God has effected in us through our faith. If you want to take up the mission of Jesus’ disciples, you have only to give credible witness that you’re not a consumer of religious goods and services but rather, a new creation.

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