August 12, 2016

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. Jeremiah is regarded as one of the more important prophets. In fact, four prophets, Isaiah, Daniel, Ezekiel and Jeremiah, are considered major prophets.

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

It is important to remember that kingship in the eyes of the devout ancient Hebrews was not a matter of governing the country primarily, or of conducting foreign affairs, or of commanding the military.

Instead, for God’s people, 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 attentive to their covenant with God.

Very often, this view meant that prophets placed themselves in conflict with the powerful.

Jeremiah in this reading certainly involved himself in politics, which can be controversial. So, Jeremiah made enemies. Indeed, enemies gathered to plot his death. The reading speaks of their wish to annihilate this annoying prophet.

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

The Epistle to the Hebrews provides the second reading.

The letter was written with eloquence and majesty for an audience of Jewish converts to Christianity. With many 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 proclaimed this weekend says that Jesus was “shameless” even when dying the ignoble death of crucifixion (Heb 12:2). Regardless of 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 should be remembered that they were written not at the time of Jesus, but likely many years later. This Gospel, for instance, is thought to have been written about 40 years after Jesus.

By the time this Gospel was composed, hostility against Christians already had begun to form in the Roman Empire. In a short time, this hostility would erupt into a full-fledged persecution. The hostility was to be expected. The Christian ethic stood utterly opposite the prevailing culture.

So, the Evangelist selected words spoken by Jesus to apply to conditions meaningful 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 sobering thought, even somehow a contradiction of the Gospel of peace.

In reality, it says that Christians must be prepared to withstand many pressures rather than forsake the one true message of Christ.

Reflection

The Church is always inviting us to follow the Lord. Indeed, its most magnificent liturgical moments are in Holy Week when it tells us so brilliantly of the Lord’s love for us, given in the Eucharist and on Calvary, and of the Lord’s identity as Son of God, definitively affirmed by the resurrection.

Nevertheless, in inviting us to discipleship, the Church never leads us down a primrose path. It is very frank and blunt.

Following Christ may often cause us to swim against the tide. Pushing against us will be the setting in which we live, those among whom we love, or ourselves.

As did Jeremiah, as did Christ, we must withstand all that is contrary to God. †

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