TWENTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR C
Theme: The Prophet: A Bothersome Man
First Reading: Jeremiah 38:4-6.8-10;
Responsorial: Psalm 40;
Second Reading: Hebrews 12:1-4;
Gospel: Luke 12:49-53;
*The Sunday Missal, Paulines Publications Africa
The first reading today is about two things that happened in Jerusalem 587 years before Christ. The city was being besieged by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. The situation was desperate, the people were dying of hunger. The army officers wanted to continue to resist. Zedekiah, the king, didn’t have the courage to oppose his generals. Jeremiah spoke out. To continue fighting, he said was useless. They must surrender. The officers went to Zedekiah. “This man ought to be put to death,” the princes said to the king; “he demoralizes the soldiers who are left in this city, and all the people, by speaking such things to them; he is not interested in the welfare of our people, but in their ruin” (4). The king imprisoned Jeremiah (6). The prophet is defeated and abandoned by all. Even by God, or so it seems (8).
But there was one courageous and honest man. His name was Ebed-Melech. He could not keep silent in the face of injustice. He was an Ethiopian who worked in the king’s palace. He said to king Zedekiah, “My lord king, these men have been at fault…” (9).
One needs courage to say things like that against the most powerful politicians in the country.
What happened to Jeremiah is not an isolated case. Sooner or later the message of those who preach God’s word will clash with the interests of the top people in the country. These will try all means not excluding death, to silence them. In ancient times they had recourse to physical violence (this is how they got rid of Jesus and many of his disciples). Nowadays they use other ways, and more subtle methods, but they are no less ruthless. Think what happens to people who dare to criticise those in power, to those who denounce injustice and institutionalised thievery, those who reject violence as a means of establishing justice. The Lord does not abandon his persecuted, isolated and imprisoned prophets. He is always at their side, perhaps through some honest person such as the Ethiopian Ebed-Melech.
The Christians who received the letters to the Hebrews were having a difficult time to the extent that some were seriously thinking of abandoning their faith. Their problems began after their conversion. They had been attacked, their property stolen, and many had been put in prison. (Heb 10:32-34). Now their lives were in danger. The author of the letter tries to encourage them, urging them not to lose heart, not to give in. This, he says, is a very good chance for you to show Christ your love and faithfulness.
The reading compares the conditions of these first Christians to athletes who must prove their strength and ability before important people. The disciples must run like their Master and their reward for winning will be the Father’s crown of glory.
We cannot run fast if we are loaded down with baggage, of course. If we do not rid ourselves of sin, our race will be painful to watch. We do find ourselves on occasion in situations similar to that of the Jews who received this letter. We are sometimes victims of injustice and abuse. We meet people who, by force or by other means, take our things, our work, our good name and, even, our children. There are people who use their authority to hurt us. What can be done, how should we respond?
These are the occasions when we are called to fight not against others but against ourselves. We shall be victorious only when we behave like our Master. He did not respond to evil with more evil (Lk 23:34). He wants us to do likewise (Mt 5:38-48).
What “fire” has Jesus come to bring (49)? What “baptism” is he to receive (50)? Why does he say that he has not come to bring peace (51)? What are the “signs of the times” that hypocrites are unable to interpret (56)? What has all this to do with the parable about not going to a magistrate (58-59)?
In East Africa, towards the end of the dry season, we often have bushfires that burn the vegetation of large areas of the savannah. The fires are started purposely to clear away weeds, stubble, thorn bushes and undergrowth. The fire spares only the tallest and strongest trees. When the rain comes the whole area fills with life again, green leaves, wild fruit, tender grass, so cherished by all animals.
Since the world seemed full of evil, people living at the time of Jesus thought it necessary to have a purifying “fire” to clear the world of evil. Some of the prophets had announced the coming of this day of fire (Zep 1:18; 3:8). The fire announced by the prophets and brought by Jesus, purifies and saves. It is the fire of his word, his message of salvation, his Spirit, the Spirit that at Pentecost came on the disciples in the form of flame (Acts 2:3-11).
What is our mission? It is to carry on the task of the “bushfire” of Christ, to penetrate the hearts of all aware that for us, as for our Master, this will happen only through suffering.
“Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” (51). These words of Jesus seem surprising. The prophets said that the Messiah would be a prince of peace… that his peace would have no end (Is 9:5-6; 1:6-9). How then can we explain the divisions that Jesus says he would cause?
The message of Jesus is a fire that will cause problems; it will shake up the lives of many people. The purveyors of injustice will be disturbed by the gospel.
The Spirit comes with an ever-renewed understanding of the message of Christ, which brings new demands, leading to the rejection of old ideas and patterns of behaviour. This tension between the old and the new will always be there, and in our Christian communities too. Woe to us if it wasn’t!
We must not shirk our responsibility of proposing new ideas that are closer to gospel ideas, even if they cause dissension.We must always seek unity, with its starting point the word of God, truth. For instance, if the animator of the Word talks rubbish, should the rest of us keep silent for the sake of unity? If the treasurer of the community looks after his own family instead of helping the poor, should we say nothing lest unity be destroyed? The peace here is false peace founded on lies and deceit, on injustice. Will it not be our duty, then at times, but acting always to avoid offence and with love, to provoke division?
What about Christians who live alongside evil and injustice and keep quiet because they are afraid of causing problems? It is important for farmers to be able to forecast the weather. They look at the sky, they study the wind. They don’t want their seed burnt up by the sun. Why then, Jesus asks, is it that people who can foresee the changes of weather cannot see the signs of the new world? Because they are hypocrites, he says. They see, but do not want to see. The new reality brought about by his word makes them uneasy. They want their old world to continue. They are annoyed by the “fire.”
What do you think of Christians who are against the “signs of the times,” who fight against anything new, even when what is proposed is clearly in line with the gospel?
The gospel of today concludes with a parable. A man has wronged a neighbour who threatens to take him to court. What should the man do? He should settle out of court. If he goes before a judge he will be condemned. What does this parable mean? Jesus means that the day of judgement is close at hand. The signs of the fire that will renew the face of the earth are already evident. The blind are recovering their sight, the deaf hear again, the lame walk, lepers have been cured, the dead have been raised and the good news has been proclaimed to the poor (Mt 11:5), and yet there are people who couldn’t care less. These are the one who will be caught unprepared.
Are our communities alert to the signs of the times? Do we notice any signs that the new world is coming?
TWENTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR C
*Adapted from: Celebrating the Word, Year C by Fernando Armellini— Paulines Publications Africa, Revised Edition 2007
“You bore me, a man of strife and contention to the whole land” (Jer 15:10).
A reading from the Book of Jeremiah
In those days: The princes said to the king, “Let this Jeremiah be put to death, for he is weakening the hands of the soldiers who are left in this city, and the hands of all the people, by speaking such words to them. For this man is not seeking the welfare of this people, but their harm.” King Zedekiah said, “Behold, he is in your hands; for the king can do nothing against you.” So they took Jeremiah and cast him into the cistern of Malchiah, the king’s son, which was in the court of the guard, letting Jeremiah down by ropes. And there was no water in the cistern, but only mire, and Jeremiah sank in the mire. Ebed-melech went from the king’s house and said to the king, “My lord the king, these men have done evil in all that they did to Jeremiah the prophet by casting him into the cistern; and he will 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 lift Jeremiah the prophet out of the cistern before he dies.”The word of the Lord.
Lord, make haste to help me!
I waited, I waited for the Lord, and he stooped down to me; / he heard my cry. R.Lord, make haste to help me!
He drew me from the deadly pit, / from the miry clay. He set my feet upon a rock, / made my footsteps firm. R.Lord, make haste to help me!
He put a new song into my mouth, praise of our God. Many shall see and fear and shall trust in the Lord. R.Lord, make haste to help me!
Wretched and poor though I am, the Lord is mindful of me. You are my rescuer, my help; O my God, do not delay.
“Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”
A reading from the Letter to the Hebrews
Brethren: Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which 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 joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.The word of the Lord.
Alleluia.My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord; I know them, and they follow me. Alleluia.
GOSPEL READINGLuke 12:49-53
“I have come not to give peace, but division.”
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
At that time: Jesus said to his disciples, “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptised with; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division; for henceforth in one house there will be five 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 her mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”The Gospel of the Lord.