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Ordinary Time 20 (C)
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Readings for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C 

1. Jeremiah 38, 4-6 and 8-10

  • I hear a kind of death and resurrection story today.  And it comes in three parts.
  • First, the prophet is accused of treason, an affair of state.  He demoralizes the soldiers and all the people, he is interested in their ruin.  It shouldn’t be hard for me to find the self-righteous tone that fits the king’s counselors.  We live in a world of perceived threats and hear this kind of talk in the media constantly.
  • The king could do nothing with them.  I am suddenly reminded of the Passion scene, in which Pilate is shown to relent before the accusers of Jesus.  In both cases, I would find a harsh voice in my own judgment of their cowardice.
  • Next comes the sentence and its execution.  Time for the voice of the eyewitness, who watches all.  They took Jeremiah and threw him into the cistern.  I will let his body do the talking, as it is let down with ropes, sinking into the mud.
  • And finally enter Ebed-melech to plead for his life.  I speak out of human concern and decency, because the prophet does not deserve such humiliation.
  • Central character: the prophet Jeremiah is recognized by a foreigner.
  • Message for our assembly: How do we know that someone is speaking the truth to us, when convenient messages pass us by all day long? 
  • I will challenge myself: To retell the story knowingly, allowing everyone to remember the times something like this has happened in our own day.  Let me look ahead to the Gospel passage, in which Jesus reminds us that dissension and violence are integral parts of the Christian’s struggle for the kingdom.  Let me remember that even church authorities today do not look on Jeremiah with favor, given that he dissented from the official line.

2. Hebrews 12, 1-4

  • The homily continues, filled with encouragement, urging the church to rid ourselves of sin, persevere, run, keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, consider. 
  • The times are very hard.  Do not grow weary or lose heart.
  • And I take the author’s words to remind the church that we are not alone: surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, together with Jesus.  We follow his example, his way, enduring the cross, despising its shame, taking his seat at the right of the throne of God. 
  • Jesus is the leader and perfecter of faith.  I think it means that he sums up all those examples of faith of which we heard last week.  Or, better, he defines for us what a life of faith entails.  In the words of the Revelation hymn, we will find in him the truly “faithful witness.”
  • And how did he live his faith?  The author mentions endurance, both of the cross and of the opposition from sinners.  What do I know of endurance beyond the act of waiting for another day to work itself out?  How can I talk of endurance except as something that happens to others?
  • Finally the words that lead forward to today’s Gospel.  In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.  I would say “resistance” in memory of the acts of resistance in our own day, against racism, cruelty, preemptive war.  What the author says fits our comfortable congregation very well.
  • Climax: Keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. 
  • The message for our assembly: Are we aware of the community of faith that we share with each other?
  • I will challenge myself: To encourage my listeners to great acts of endurance.

Gospel. Luke 12, 49-53

  • I have come to set the world on fire.  Today’s Gospel presents another not very comfortable warning from the sayings of Jesus.  And he doesn’t mean setting a match to some dry kindling.  The original Greek says something more violent, “to throw fire at the earth.”  I think I get the point. 
  • There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish!  There is strong feeling and decisiveness in these words.  It will not do for me to render them passively. 
  • Do you think that I have come to establish “peace on the earth”?  The words in quotes take us back to the beginning of Luke’s Gospel and Christmas night.  I would like to say them as if he were quoting the angels, as if he rejected that facile peace in the same way Jeremiah rejected it.
  • A household of five will be divided, and so begins the chain of tragic events around those who accept and reject Jesus.  It is important for our congregation to hear how families are split apart because of their choices.  Let it hit home: father against son, mother against daughter, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law.  It doesn’t have to be this way, but we should not be shocked when it does.  The people’s faith may be shallow if such crisis points never happen. 
  • Climax: Division!  (The word “sword” is not in this Gospel but in Matthew.)  Jesus is talking forced separation.  Our world is filled with secular examples of partition.  The world will not be the same again.
  • Message for our assembly: Is this the same gentle Jesus Lamb of God whom we mourn on Good Friday?  What does this mean for our devotional lives? 
  • I will challenge myself: To find some blazing fire in my own voice, to let this short reading make a difference.

From Word to Eucharist: Oh, how much we still have to learn from the Lord!  If we find it very easy to approach the table, maybe we have missed something.  If our faith has not left us with some visible scars, we may not be trying too hard. 

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