18Aug 18 August, 2019. 20th Sunday (C)

1st Reading: Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10

Jeremiah is dropped into a well to die, but is saved by a foreigner

The officials said to the king, “This man [Jeremiah] should be put to death, because he is discouraging the soldiers who are left in this city, and all the people, by speaking such words to them. He is not seeking the welfare of this people, but their harm.” King Zedekiah said, “Here he is; he is in your hands; for the king is powerless against you.” So they took Jeremiah and threw him into the cistern of Malchiah, the king’s son, which was in the court of the guard, letting Jeremiah down by ropes. Now there was no water in the cistern, but only mud, and Jeremiah sank in the mud.

Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, a eunuch in the king’s house, heard that they had put Jeremiah into the cistern. The king happened to be sitting at the Benjamin Gate, So Ebed-melech left the king’s house and spoke to the king, “My lord king, these men have acted wickedly in all they did to the prophet Jeremiah by throwing him into the cistern to die there of hunger, for there is no bread left in the city.” Then the king commanded Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, “Take three men with you from here, and pull the prophet Jeremiah up from the cistern before he dies.”

Second Reading: Hebrews 12:1-4

Persevere with Jesus, for we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses

Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

Gospel: Luke 12:49-53

Christ calls for total loyalty, even if it causes severe dissension

Jesus said to his disciples,
“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! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No,I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”



Lighting a fire

Many well-off Christians are deeply attached to the status-quo that favours them, and consider it the main task of Christianity to help maintain law and order. They find it strange and wrong if Jesus seems to invite, not economic and social and conservatism, but a deep and radical transformation of society. “I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were blazing already… Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”

It’s not easy for us to accept Jesus as bringing fire, destined to destroy so much lying, violence and injustice. He wanted to radically transform the world, even at the cost of challenging and dividing people. Following Jesus isn’t a kind of fatalism, passive and resigned to the status quo, valuing tranquility above all else.

Christians should seek eagerly, creatively and in solidarity for a better world. But neither are they rebels motivated by resentment, who tear everything down and then replaces one dictatorship with another. Those who really listen to Jesus are moved by his passionate desire for completely changed world. True disciples have “revolution” in their heart, in the sense of wanting a more just society.

The world order so praised by the powerful is rather a disorder. We are far from giving food to all the hungry, or guaranteing everyone’s rights, or even eliminating wars and getting rid of nuclear arms. The revolution we need is deeper than merely economic reforms. It must transform people’s and nations’ consciences. What we want is a world “where competition, the struggle of individuals one against another, deception, cruelty and massacres no longer have a reason to exist” (H. Marcuse). Whoever follows Jesus wants the fire lit by him to burn brightly in this world. The main thing asked of Christians is that they be authentic. That would be the real revolution.

Rugged Individuals

“Oh all you who pass by, see if there is any sorrow like unto my sorrow.” These words are often applied to Jesus, but they were not said BY him. They are from the Lamentations of Jeremiah (1:12), a prophet whose life closely resembles that of Jesus. Jeremiah lived in an age of crisis which saw the collapse of the Assyrian empire, and the emergence of a new one in Babylon. After being ruled for over a century by Assyria, the Israelites’ faith and their forms of worship were tainted by paganism.

Jeremiah’s role was to condemn idolatry and help his people rebuild their faith. But the ruling elite blocked his efforts and even wanted to kill him, in order to preserve the status quo. As a shy young man, Jeremiah’s whole being shuddered before the vocation he felt, “to tear up and to knock down, to destroy and to overthrow” (1:10). In his poetry we see him on the verge of despair. “The word of the Lord has brought on me insult and derision all day long” (20:8).

Jeremiah inner struggle was intense. “Why is my suffering endless, my wound incurable?” (15:18). He even goes so far as to despair of his life: “Cursed be the day when I was born” (20:18). He was going through what St John of the Cross would later call “the dark night of the soul,” when someone specially near to God seems abandoned by him. But by his suffering, the heart of Jeremiah was purified, making him a most efffective prophet.

Instead of preaching externals like Law, circumcision, sacrifice and Temple, Jeremiah preached a religion that was inward, a more personal relationship with God. God would plant his Law deep within his people’s psyche, writing it on their hearts (Jer 31:33). A thousand years later, St Augustine was of similar mind. “Seek God within” was his motto. “Enter into yourselves, for truth dwells within you.” The focus on interior, personal religion is what makes Jeremiah dear to so many Christians. He foresaw a new covenant between God and the people, the first time such an idea is found in Judaism. The consecration over the chalice in every Mass mentions “the new and everlasting covenant.”

Both Jesus and Jeremiah felt great empathy for ordinary people, and a burning desire for their welfare, and both were rejected by the powers-that-be of their time. What Caiphas said of Jesus, “It is better for one man to die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed” (Jn 11:50) echoes what the leaders of Jerusalem said about Jeremiah, “This fellow does not have the welfare of the people at heart, but its ruin”. When they plotted to kill Jeremiah, he was only saved by an Egyptian, who helped draw him out of the muddy well into which he had been thrown. The only person to help Jesus on his way to Calvary, Simon of Cyrene, was also a foreigner, from Libya. In God’s wise providence, help can come from the most unexpected quarters.

Peace and Division

“Do you think that I am come to bring peace on earth?” Quite honestly, we would hope so. We’ve come to equate Jesus with peace; is he not the Prince of Peace? The Communion Rite links him with peace; the discourse at the Last Supper is peppered with the word. Yet, when he answers his own question, he confuses us. “No. I tell you, but rather division.”

We look at the life of Jesus for clues as to how “peace” and “division” can be reconciled. One approach is to find Jesus exercising options in his life; facing moments when he has a choice of two roads ?” the easy pliant one of the prevailing culture or the lonely reforming one. His decisions cause divisions. Some of the division and turmoil is within himself (the garden scene.) some between himself and others ?” his mother and relatives. Peter on the road to Jerusalem, the final divisiveness of the cross of scandal.

Each time Jesus decides to follow the Father’s will, that has two effects. It divides him off from those who won’t take the step with him, and it moves him deeper into the peace that comes from being true to who you are. The peace Jesus talks about has a shape to it. It is not the wishy-washy, compromising, anything-for-a-quiet-life kind of peace we often settle for. When he mentions “division” in the same breath, we begin to see division as almost the price of authentic peace. We could spend time noting the kine of decisions Jesus regularly made. He reached out; showed compassion; suffered along with people; understood their pain; broke bread with the hungry; befriended sinners; he was at ease with labourers and poor people who lived in the shadow of the powerful elite.

While we’ve read and heard these scenes a thousand times, we can lose sight of how disruptive and unconventional Jesus was. He talked of Samaritans saving Jewish lives! He praised the father who embraced the son who shamed him! You were to share your cloak and tunic, all you wore, literally! The soldier in the occupying army was to be accompanied not just the one mile but another mile, unbidden.

Jesus parted company with the authorities, not because he wished to but because they did. His warm, open-handed approach to others provoked in the authorities an angry, clench-fisted reaction. To preserve the status quo they would have to be rid of this challenging presence. The crucifixion was meant to silence him for good. Instead, it gave him the last word. It not only capped his life of sacrifice but raised up an iconic sign to inspire us over the centuries. The sacrifice of Jesus shows the price to be paid if we are to reach the peace he calls us to.

Síochán agus Easaontas

Scar Íosa leis na húdaráis, ní as a stuaim féin ,ach mar gheall orthu siúd. Ba ghráin leo féile Íosa , agus d’eirigh siad feargach dúr. Bheartaíodar É a mharú, É chur dá chois mar gheall ar an coimhlint eatortha. Ach bhí an focal scoir ag Íosa. Chomhlíonaigh sé an íobairt iomlán agus d’árdaigh sé comhartha chun sinn a mhuscailt thar na céadta. Ní gan dua a thagann Síochán an Tiarna chughainn.

One Response

  1. Paddy Ferry

    I did not make much sense of today’s readings as I sat lethargically in my pew this morning so I really do appreciate this reflection above. If this is all your work, Pat thank you and well done. What a great resource you are providing and I am not even a priest! You must be a hero to many guys sitting in their parochial houses late Saturday afternoons.

Scroll Up