August 16, 2013

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Jeremiah is the source of the first reading for this weekend. Four prophets—Daniel, Isaiah, Ezekiel and Jeremiah—are called the Old Testament’s “major prophets” because of the extent of their writings, but also because of the brilliance of what they wrote.

Jeremiah was active as a prophet during the reign of King Josiah of Judah, or between 640 and 609 B.C. Generally, Josiah was seen as a good and upright king, loyal to God.

In judging the kings, it is important to remember that devout ancient Hebrews saw kingship not just as a matter of governing the country, conducting foreign affairs and commanding the military, but as leading the people in obedience to God.

The king’s responsibility, regardless of the person who was wearing the crown at any given time, was to see that the law of God was obeyed, and that the people of the kingdom were aware, and attentive to, their covenant with God.

Jeremiah in this reading is asserting that the covenant is all-important, but he is involving himself in politics. Politics can be controversial, so Jeremiah made enemies. Indeed, enemies plotted his death. The reading clearly speaks of their wish to annihilate this worrisome prophet.

Despite the threat, regardless of the scheming of his enemies, Jeremiah still spoke with determination that God deserved obedience. The covenant had to be honored.

The Epistle to the Hebrews provides the second reading.

Written for a Jewish audience, eloquent and even majestically so, with strong references to Hebrew history and symbols, this epistle splendidly proclaims the Lord Jesus to be the Redeemer, the Lamb of God and the High Priest.

The passage from the epistle read this weekend says that Jesus was “shameless” even when dying the ignoble death of crucifixion. Unaffected by the insults and scorn of others, Jesus rose to sit at the right hand of the Father in glory.

For its last reading on this weekend, the Church offers us a passage from St. Luke’s Gospel.

Always in reading the Gospels, it is important to note that they were written not at the time of Jesus, but years later. This Gospel, for instance, was probably written 40 years after Jesus.

By the time this Gospel was composed, hostility against Christians already was beginning to form in the Roman Empire. This hostility soon erupted into a full-fledged persecution. It is not surprising. The Christian ethic stood utterly opposite the prevailing culture.

So Luke had to select words spoken by Jesus to apply to conditions important to his audience.

This being the case, it is easy to see why the Gospel in this reading quotes Jesus as saying that there would be no peace on the Earth. Jesus brought fire. It can be a daunting thought, surely in the face of the Gospel’s attachment to peace.

Reflection

Neither the Gospel, nor the Church’s steadfast proclamation of the Gospel, leads anyone down a primrose path. The Gospel is clear. The Church is frank. Discipleship is hard. Rare has been the moment in history when Gospel values universally were embraced. After all, in many cases, these values conflict with human instincts warped by the effects of original sin.

In giving us these readings this weekend, the Church is being honest. Today, as much as in ancient times, in our country as in tyrannies, following Christ may often require us to swim against the tide. Resisting us, pushing us the other way, will be the culture in which we live, those among whom we love, or ourselves.

As Jeremiah, as Christ, we must withstand all that is contrary to God. Only in following the Lord, in being obedient to God, are we assured of life and true peace. †

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