If you live with, or near, anyone between the ages of 8 and 13, you know that this is one of the monumental events of the 21st century.
The first “High School Musical” cost four million dollars to make…and grossed over $500 million, from DVDs, videos and CD sales. It was so successful, its soundtrack was the number one best-selling CD of 2006. It’s so huge, we did a story about it on the Evening News a couple nights ago. If you ask her, Katie Couric can even sing all the songs for you.
Decades from now, I don’t think sociologists will be studying these movies as great art, but they do remind us about something most of us would rather forget: what it was like being in high school.
It’s all about being part of a group, a clique, something bigger than you. It’s about belonging and being accepted. Those of us who survived high school, and lived to tell about it, know that only too well.
In Jesus’ day, the most important group to belong to, the most “in” clique, was your own family. You were known as someone’s son, or brother, or father, or wife. Families bonded and shared everything, often with varying branches of the same family tree living under one roof.
So when Jesus declared, as he does in Luke’s gospel, “From now on, a household will be divided,” this was something shocking.
You just didn’t break up families, or even hint that they would be divided against each other. Blood really was thicker than water – and almost anything else, for that matter.
But Jesus puts its bluntly, listing all the parts of the family that will be pulled part because of him. “Do you think I have come to establish peace on earth?,” he asks. “No, I tell you, but rather division.”
That’s a little startling to us. This does not sound like the Jesus we know. It does not sound like the man who told us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. It doesn’t sound at all like the man who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”
But he is telling us, in no uncertain terms, that we need to make a choice. And that the bonds we have here on earth are less important than the ones in the kingdom of God.
Family ties do not matter there. Because in that kingdom, we are part of a much larger family. A family of faith. A family that embraces the good news. A family that loves those that no one else loves — the poor, the marginalized, the outcast.
In high school terms, this family loves those who aren’t in the “in” crowd. The ones who don’t necessarily sit at the best lunch table or get asked to the homecoming dance.
Because those are Christ’s kind of people.
They are the ones he ministered to, and lived with, and ate with, and healed. And for that reason, if no other, they are our kind of people, too.
Christ is asking us to choose between his message, and the world’s – between living in light, and staying in the shadows of sin.
“I have come to set the earth on fire,” he says. “And how I wish it were already blazing.”
Every year around this time, in June, July and August, we hear reports of wildfires burning up the American west. Thousands of acres end up destroyed – many from fires caused by arson or accidents. But others happen naturally, from lightning or intense heat.
For a long time, forest rangers worked to suppress fires, to stop them before they started. But in the 1960s, they began to realize that many fires occur naturally – they are a necessary part of the eco-system. Some trees even have flammable enzymes in their leaves, to encourage fires. It is a way that nature replenishes itself, and makes itself stronger. The fires burn off some of the useless underbrush, and the whole cycle of nature is able to thrive.
And that is what Jesus wants.
The fire he will set is necessary. He wants to burn off what is useless, to make the forest healthier. No wonder that the Letter to the Hebrews today describes Christ as the “leader and perfecter of the faith.” He is seeking to perfect us.
“I have come to set the earth on fire. How I wish it were already blazing.”
The question we have to ask: what will happen to us in that fire?
Are we the tangled weeds that serve no purpose?
Or are we sturdy trees, eager to grow, reaching for the sunlight?
Do we want to be “perfected” as Jesus wants us to be?
It is up to us. It is all about choosing.
Choosing to build up God’s Kingdom…choosing to expand it. Choosing to love those whom others find unlovable, and to care for those no one else cares for.
Choosing not to be consumed by fire…but illuminated by Christ’s light.
In doing that, we choose, as well, to be part of God’s greater family – that great “cloud of witnesses.”
I’m sure, when the ratings are in, we’ll find that there was a “great cloud of witnesses” watching “High School Musical 2” the other night, too. Maybe it will spur people to think about the choices we all make: which “clique” to belong to, or which lunch table to join. Which friends to have. Which values to embrace.
In a lot of ways, the world of high school is a microcosm of life – and it’s echoed in today’s gospel.
But as we prepare to receive the Eucharist today, we prepare to approach the table where all outcasts are “in”…where Christ welcomes all of us, and gives himself to all of us. We join something greater than ourselves, greater than any family or group or “clique” that we know.
We pray to be worthy of this gift – and to be able to share it with others.
The choice – as Jesus reminds us — is ours.