20thSunday in Ordinary Time – Year C.
Commentary Theme for this Sunday:
“The Prophet: A Bothersome Man.”
The first reading gives the example of Jeremiah, a timid and sensible man that God entrusts with proclaiming a hard-hitting message that goes against the wishes and options of the king and the army generals. Jeremiah was persecuted, but God was always at his side and freed him from the clutches of his enemies. Anyone accepting to become an announcer of the Word of God must accept the possibility that they will be persecuted.
The second reading invites all to be strong in all the struggles and to overcome all difficulties, like athletes during a race.
The Gospel tells us that we must not be afraid of the divisions caused by the ‘Word of God’. It is inevitable because it comes from the reaction of the ‘old world’ that does not want to disappear and tries to find ways for its values to survive.
It is recommended that the actual readings are first studied and then meditated upon with a prayer to the Holy Spirit to grant you the gift of ‘wisdom’ to understand the meaning of the messages of Love, Forgiveness and the Offer of Salvation that the Lord has for each one of us in the Holy Bible.
These commentaries, which have been extracted and summarised for our meditation, are from the published works of priests who have, by their Divine inspiration, become acclaimed scholars of the Scriptures and generally reflect the Church’s understanding of the readings.
These commentaries are not meant to replace the Sunday Homily at Holy Mass but are provided as an additional guide to assist and further enhance our understanding of the Sunday Liturgical Readings.
‘Daily Reflections’ and a Prayer are included to enable us to ‘Live the Word’ during the week following the Sunday Mass. We will begin to understand the meaning of gratuitous love and our life’s true purpose. Through His Word, we will follow the Light to help fulfil the mission that has been given to each one of us by our Creator.
“Allow the Spirit of God to break the chains that keep us from understanding and accepting the word of God.”
Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10.
When Jerusalem was besieged by the Babylonian armies in 588 BC, Jeremiah, the prophet, declined to take the easy way of telling the authorities what they wanted to hear. He insisted on telling them the bad news, the unwelcome truth, which came from God. In return, like Joseph the patriarch (Gn. 37:22) he was thrown into a pit to die. He was to die a death without the shedding of blood. Again like Joseph, he was saved by a foreigner (Gn. 37:28). The prophet it seems is defeated and he feels abandoned by all: by friends and relatives alike, and even by God in spite of his promise of protection (Jer. 1:8).
Quite unexpectedly, a courageous and honest man stood up for Jeremiah. His name was Ebed-Melech and he is one who cannot keep silent at the sight of injustice. He was a foreigner, an Ethiopian and worked in the king’s palace. He went straight to king Zedekiah and told him: “My lord, these men have done a wicked thing …” (9). One needs courage to say such things and to stand up against the most powerful politicians of the nation! The king listened to him and ordered immediately that the prophet be pulled out of the storage-well where he was imprisoned.
What happened to Jeremiah is not an isolated case. All those who announce and proclaim the Word of God will always be treated in a similar way. Sooner or later their message of truth is bound to clash with the interests of the powerful of the nations. These powers will persecute them and will try all means, including death, to silence them.
In ancient times they resorted to physical violence (this is how they got rid of Jesus and of many of his disciples). Nowadays they use much more subtle methods, but in reality they are no less ruthless: marginalization, contempt, calumny, and threats. Think back on what happens to people daring to criticize the behavior of those despots in power, to those who are denouncing injustice, thefts and frauds, and to those rejecting violence as a means to re-establish justice.
The Lord does not abandon his persecuted, isolated and imprisoned prophets. He is ever at their side and at the sides of all those sons and daughters who stand up for ‘truth and justice’ irrespective of the ramifications resulting from their standpoints. He is ever at their side, perhaps through some simple and honest and likeable people as the Ethiopian Ebed-Melech.
Have we the courage to stand up for our ideals, to risk ridicule if we profess our faith, to come out publicly in support for a good cause? Jesus warned that the opposition might begin at home. The division of a house is the system of voting in a democratic parliament. There comes a time when one has to stand up and be counted.
Think of how even members of our Christian communities deal with those who propose a better and more evangelical behaviour, a clearer administration of funds and the renouncing of special privileges. We have to keep this type of thought and behaviour out of our spiritual home for we have nowhere else to seek the true ‘Way’!
Psalm 40:1,12, 18-20, 22.
The Psalm is a song of confidence. Like the Jeremiah passage, it includes reference to delivery from a pit. The psalmist’s language recalls Israel’s troubles in Exile. Like Deutero-Isaiah, he speaks of a new song to God (Is. 42:10). It is especially noteworthy for its expressions of personal trust in God.
Paul, writing to the Corinthians, had compared the Christian life to a race in a stadium (1 Cor. 9:25). The letter to the Hebrews extends this image. All of us are competing in this race and a great crowd is watching us, composed of the great figures of salvation history (Heb. 11). There is ‘One’ who has already run the race of faith and won. This is Jesus. His ‘Passion and Death’ were the race that he ran. The prize he won was a seat at the right hand of the Father. (Ps. 110:2). We are to fix our gaze on him, especially when we feel we are in the pit with Jeremiah.
Today’s Gospel, reminds us that accepting to live as a real disciple of Christ is going to cost us something. Not all people, not even our families, will agree with our choice for Jesus. There will be division because of Jesus coming into the heart of society, which is also in the family. The Word of Jesus is like a fire that burns and reveals what is hidden in people’s hearts and so causes division. In spite of this division within the family, the disciple has to be faithful to Jesus with or without the family.
Fire is often used in the Bible as the sign of the presence and action of God. God comes as a fire to consume the sacrifice of Abraham (Gn. 15:7). God appears to Moses in the middle of a bush (Ex. 3:2). When the people of Israel live in the desert, God shows his presence as a cloud by day and a fire by night (Ex. 40:38). When Jesus speaks of his mission as throwing fire upon the earth, we can sense presence and power of God acting in him. When the Spirit comes upon the apostles and disciples at Pentecost to empower them, it will be in the form of flames (tongues) of fire (Acts. 2:3). Indeed, “God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29).
Fire is also an image of judgment and suffering. In God’s fire we are tested and judged, punished and ‘purified’. Our faith will be tested by the fire of suffering (1 Pt. 1:7). In the end, Satan, death and Hades and all who refuse to believe in the ‘Truth’ will be thrown into a lake of fire (cf. Rv. 20:10-14). The fire Jesus throws upon the earth reveals and destroys all false pretences and exposes and burns up selfishness and sin of the ‘old person’. “For anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation. Everything old has passed away, everything has become new” (2 Cor. 5:17).
This new transformation is painful. It is a ‘baptism’, the baptism of the Cross (Lk. 9:18-27). The ‘Way’ of Jesus is also the way the disciples are invited to follow (Lk. 9:57-61). We enter into this purification through our own baptism.
We would expect Jesus to be a messenger of peace, not of division. After all, he came to “guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk. 1:79) and his birth was meant to “bring peace and goodwill” (Lk. 2:14). The decision to follow Jesus does not necessarily bring peace to people. His peace is different from the peace that the world gives (Jn. 14:27). The peace of Jesus demands working for justice and reconciliation among people (Jn. 2019:-28), the promotion of human rights, the respect of life in all its forms, from the womb to the tomb. To create a peace that is built on justice, does not go without resistance and rejection. It means suffering and sacrifice. Following Jesus is not like taking a pain killer, but rather like accepting to be a burning fire.
Jesus demands a total commitment to the values of God’s Kingdom which are difficult to follow. This provokes divisions among his audience and even touches the very heart of society which is the family. The family is the place where the love of the parents flows to the children and creates a sense of belonging and unity. When the bond of love and the sense of belonging are lost, the family begins to disintegrate. Where all the family members accept the message and person of Jesus, there is no trouble and they will experience their love and unity more deeply. However, when some members of the family accept while others reject Jesus and his Gospel, there will be tensions and divisions. The division of father against son, daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law, is already mentioned in Mic. 7:6. The prophet speaks of the suffering that families will have to undergo at the judgment of God as he intervenes to purify them for the coming of the Messiah.
When our family and our relatives support and encourage us in our discipleship the whole family is united in Christ’s truth and gratuitous love and unity. It becomes a bond that cannot be broken as Christ is the bonding part of that unity. Even when this is not the case, we are still invited to follow Jesus against the will of the extended family and can be difficult, painful and even heroic. Consider how many young boys and girls went through great suffering when they disclosed that they wanted to become a priest or a religious against the will of the family or refused to marry someone they did not love.
Our journey to salvation is a purification process which can be painful. We may hesitate to embark on it and we may have fears about entering a world that we don’t understand or where it might lead us.
The invitation is always there, and the blessings are unlimited.
Further Questions Answered In The Saving Message For Us In Today’s Gospel.
Jesus shocked his disciples when he declared that he would cast fire and cause division rather than peace upon the earth.
What kind of fire was Jesus talking about? Fire in biblical times was associated with God and with his action in the world and in the lives of people. God sometimes manifested his presence by the use of fire.
The image of fire was also used to symbolise God’s glory (Ez. 1:4, 13), his protective presence (2 Kg. 6:17), his holiness (Dt. 4:24), righteous judgment (Zec. 13:19), and his wrath against sin (Is. 66:15-16). It is also used symbolising the Holy Spirit (Mt. 3:11 and Acts. 2:3). God’s fire both purifies and cleanses, and it inspires a reverent fear of God and of his word in us.
The fire that Jesus came to cast upon the earth is properly understood as a purifying fire. The prophet Malachi spoke of the Lord being “like a refiners fire and like a fullers’ soap” (Mal. 3:2) that separates (i.e. divides) good from evil; purifying the good and destroying the evil. This fire is cast upon the earth and it divides the faithless (evil) from the faithful (good).
Jesus regarded the coming of the kingdom of God as a time of judgment. His word of judgment was meant to help people take seriously the consequences of the choices – either for or against God. Our responses to the judgments of God have serious repercussions, both for the present and the future. Jesus states that even family loyalties would be challenged on the basis of whether people accepted the kingdom of God or not.
The essence of Christianity is loyalty to Jesus Christ, a loyalty that must take precedence over every other relationship. When Jesus spoke about division he likely had in mind the prophecy of Micah: a man’s enemies are the men of his own household (Mic. 7:6). Our love of God compels us to choose who will be first in our lives. To place any relationship (or anything else) above God is a form of idolatry.
As Christians, we should always strive for harmonious relationship in the family and we should never do anything personally to cause a rift. We should love and honour family members. We should be kind and gracious, even if family members are offensive toward us. But, if family members are offended by the Gospel we believe in, then so be it. We must be prepared to bear such hostility and to stand graciously but firmly for the Gospel.
Thankfully, Jesus does bring peace. When Jesus said he did not bring peace on earth (v.51), he meant peace with the world. The peace that Jesus brings is part of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal.5:22), the whole armour of God (Eph. 6:15), and it is the “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding that will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7).
Jesus challenges his disciples and all Christians to examine who they love first and foremost. A true disciple loves God above all else and is willing to forsake all for Jesus Christ. Jesus insists that we give him the loyalty which is only due to God, a loyalty which is far higher than to spouse or kin. This can cause conflict in many families and it is possible that family and friends can become our enemies, if the thought of them keeps us from doing what we know God wants us to do.
The love of Jesus Christ compels us to put God first in all that we do!
‘Acknowledgement and Thanks’ to ‘Recommended Source Material’ by:
Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, Fr. Fernando Armellini SCI, Peter Edmonds SJ, Richard Baawobr M.Afr, Joseph A. Slattery Ph.D, Adelmo Spagnolo MCCJ, Silvester O’Flynn OFM Cap, J.E. Spicer CSsR, John R. Donahue SJ and Alice Camille – Master’s degree in Divinity.
Reflections for each day this Week to lead us in the ‘Way, the Truth and the Life’.
Almighty God and Father, on the … of the week following 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year C, we reflect on …
Sun. … The prophet seems defeated and he feels abandoned by all: by friends and relatives alike, and even by God in spite of his promise of protection. How often, when things go horribly wrong in our lives despite us trying our best and walking in the ‘Way’, do feel abandoned by God? Jesus in deep prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane in his humanity may also have felt abandoned. He may have been tempted to recall Psalm 22, “My God, my God why have you abandoned me?”
Mon. … Many of us prefer not to interfere or get involved for fear of reprisals. We feel that we are not really responsible for the misfortune or the difficulties of others. We like to think that there are always people more capable and knowledgeable than ourselves to sort out the crisis. We like to quote the cop-out saying, “I am not by brother’s keeper”. He got into this mess, he must get himself out! Jesus has news for us, “We are our brother’s keeper!”
Tues. … The Lord does not abandon his persecuted, isolated and imprisoned prophets. He is ever at their side and at the sides of all those sons and daughters who stand up for truth and justice irrespective of the ramifications resulting from their standpoints. Jesus expects that as Christians, those who profess to follow him and walk in his ‘Way’, to do the same!
Wed. … Paul encourages us not to lose heart. There are dramatic moments when we are called to start fighting not against others, but against ourselves. We shall be victorious only when we shall be able to behave like our Master. He did not respond with evil (Lk. 23:34); he wants us to do likewise (Mt. 5:38-48).
Thurs. … In accepting to live as a real disciple of Christ, it is going to cost us something. Not all people, not even our families, will agree with our choice for Jesus. There will be division because of Jesus coming into the heart of society, which is also in the family. The word of Jesus is like a fire that burns and reveals what is hidden in people’s hearts and so causes division. In spite of this division within the family, the disciple has to be faithful to Jesus with or without the family.
Frid. … The decision to follow Jesus does not necessary bring peace to people. His peace is different from the peace that the world gives. The peace of Jesus demands working for justice and reconciliation among people, the promotion of human rights, the respect of life in all its forms, from the womb to the tomb. To create a peace that is built on justice, does not go without resistance and rejection. It means enduring suffering and sacrifice. Following Jesus is not like taking a pain killer, but rather like accepting to be a burning fire.
Sat. … Our journey to salvation is a purification process in God’s cleansing fire which can be painful. We may hesitate to embark on it and we may have fears about entering a world that we don’t understand or where it might lead. The invitation is always there, and the blessings are unlimited.
Prayer after the Daily Reflection.
Father, let us not be afraid of divisions in our communities and our families caused by Your Word. Let us accept in our stride, ridicule and if necessary persecution, when we fulfil our baptismal promises of proclaiming the ‘Good News’ of Christ. We know that You will always be with us as we stumble along the difficult road of life towards Your promise of salvation. Let us accept Your ‘burning fire’ into our hearts which will purify us and that by Your grace we will be made worthy to spend eternity in Your presence.
This we ask through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever. Amen.
Compliments: Bible Discussion Group.
Our Lady of the Wayside, Maryvale.
“Discovering the Truth through God’s living Word”.