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Jaime L. WatersAugust 05, 2022
Photo from Unsplash.

On the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, the Lectionary gives us a wake-up call about faithfulness and devotion to God: These actions can be dangerous. The first reading and the Gospel are ominous, as they reveal risks associated with faith. Fortunately, embedded in these texts are nuggets of hope and suggestions for dealing with unsettling realities. 

“I have come to set the earth on fire” (Lk 12:49).

Liturgical day
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
Jer 38:4-10; Ps 40; Heb 12:1-4; Lk 12:49-53

What can you do to advocate for those who are wrongfully persecuted?

How do you handle rejection?

Do you view your faith community as your family?

In the first reading, we hear about the struggles of the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah lived during a time of instability and suffering. His prophecies reflect the traumas of living during a time of war. The book of Jeremiah reveals that many of the prophet’s contemporaries were critical of his messages and that Jeremiah had several enemies. 

In the first reading, we hear about leaders targeting Jeremiah and attempting to put him to death because of his words and actions. Jeremiah endured wrongful imprisonment and death threats because he was outspoken in critiquing people in positions of authority. Jeremiah’s boldness in the face of adversity might be admirable, yet it reveals the risks associated with speaking truth, especially to people in power.

Today’s readings can motivate us to look at the difficult circumstances of today and respond accordingly, showing willingness to go out of our way for what we know is necessary and right.

Fortunately, the first reading also offers us guidance and hope that is rooted in community. While Jeremiah suffered, he was not alone. Not only was God with him, but there were people who sought to protect him. Ebed-melech, an Ethiopian who is a royal official in Judah, is an important example. He reaches out to the Judean king and criticizes the actions done to Jeremiah. Risking his own safety and security, Ebed-melech implores King Zedekiah to use his power to save Jeremiah. In the midst of Judean officials contending with potential takeover or allegiance to Babylonian or Egyptian powers, an Ethiopian intercedes on behalf of a Judean prophet. After successfully convincing the king to reverse course on his treatment of Jeremiah, Ebed-melech along with three other people save Jeremiah from dying in a muddy cistern. Ultimately, Ebed-melech is rewarded by God, as he is spared in the destruction of the kingdom of Judah, as is revealed later in the book of Jeremiah. Ebed-melech offers us a model for courageously addressing injustice and adversity in our world. 

In the Gospel reading from Luke, Jesus expresses the realities of how people would react to his mission and ministry. Some would embrace him, and others would reject him. “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you but rather division.” These words might make us wonder why Jesus would not want peace on earth, but that inquiry misses the point. Jesus expresses the harsh realities of the world, affirming that he would be rejected by some and that he, like Jeremiah, would face wrongful legal actions against him. Jesus wants his disciples to understand these realities so that they can be like Ebed-melech. They are the community who must address those in power who might do harm. Jesus’ disciples must be willing to face hardships as an element of discipleship so that they could respond to the needs of the world. 

The familial divisions that Jesus speaks of—father against son, mother against daughter, in-law against in-law—might inspire us to see faith in Christ as building a new Christian family where people are united in faith and action, not simply by biological or legal connections. Jesus affirms the divisions that his mission would create, yet he also calls for a vision of a new family rooted in faith in Christ.

Today’s readings can motivate us to look at the difficult circumstances of today and respond accordingly, showing willingness to go out of our way for what we know is necessary and right.

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