Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 18, 2019
Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10
Psalm 40:2, 3, 4, 18
The Gospel of Luke 12:49-53
Deacon Mike D’Addabbo
St. Louis Catholic Church
In today’s first reading we see the princes come to King Zedekiah asking that he execute Jeremiah for the things he is prophesying to the people. Jeremiah is doing nothing wrong. His prophecies are in conflict with the princes’ leadership and that is causing divisions between the people and the princes. Today’s gospel also uses the word division. Zedekiah, not willing to disagree with the princes, but also not wanting the responsibility of Jeremiah’s death, tells the princes that they can have Jeremiah and do with him what they want. If they want to put him to death that is their decision. He washes his hands of the execution in the same way Pilate washed his hands of Jesus’ execution about 600 years later. The princes decide to make a public spectacle of Jeremiah’s execution by throwing him down a well with no water or food. This type of execution is as public a manner of death as crucifying Jesus was. It was meant to intimidate the public. However, Zedekiah changed his mind after he is given new advice that Jeremiah is not guilty of what the princes claimed and is being wrongly punished. So Zedekiah tells the informants to go and rescue Jeremiah which they do. Jeremiah was rescued, remained firm in his convictions and continued to prophesy. Pilate did not change his mind. He did not order Jesus’ rescue
In the second reading the Hebrew’s are being told about the divisiveness Jesus causes by His teachings. Opposition came at Jesus from many different sources and He endured it. That opposition has not stopped even now 2,000 years later. Our Catholic faith is seeing something that opposes it, is derogatory to it, or try’s to weaken it on an almost daily basis. The news and social media are not necessarily bad but they are only soundbites- just the latest opinion of someone. Are we discerning enough before we accept or reject what they write or say? Do we have the courage to confront a mistruth or a problem and try to correct it? We can do either of those in such a way as to bring people to Christ and not lead them away from Christ. Do we have the courage to do what the Hebrew’s are told and keep our eyes fixed on Jesus? Do we have the strength to- as Fr. Jolly would say- keep the main thing the main thing? Jesus knew that after dying, rising and ascending into heaven He would be seated at the right hand of God the Father. We know that if we follow God’s law we will, sadly, meet opposition in our worldly life but, joyfully, our reward will be great in heaven. As a Jewish friend of mine once told me Jesus was the original radical revolutionary. By their nature revolutionaries always have opposition, and radical revolutionaries even more opposition, because they are proponents for change that is unacceptable to some in society.
The Gospel of St. Luke begins with Jesus saying “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it was already blazing!!” It continues with “Do you think I have come to establish peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division…” Jesus then goes on to say how households, parents, children will be divided against each other. Yikes. That is pretty scary. I know it is not how we want to think of our families and our all loving and forgiving God. God commanded us to love one another. So what is Jesus telling us?
Fire can be viewed in a couple of ways. It is always scary because, uncontrolled, it can be destructive and deadly. Just think back to last year’s California wildfires and all the homes destroyed, the people who died and the forests that were decimated. Yet fire can also give life. We use it for light, to cook food, to heat our homes. It is used to fix broken items, cauterize a wound. It can rejuvenate a forest by burning trees and putting nutrients back into the ground to assist new vegetation.
God also uses fire in different ways. He told us that by failing to follow His law we would suffer in the fires of hell. However, He used a burning bush on Mt. Sinai to attract the attention of Moses instructing him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. The Holy Spirit appeared as tongues of fire to the apostles in the upper room. In fact, the Holy Spirit is often associated with fire. John Angotti equates the fire to our faith. Jesus is telling us that He wishes we were already on fire, full of faith because we would be setting the earth on fire with the Holy Spirit. However, we know that is not the case because there are many still today who are lacking in faith. That is the division of households that Jesus tells us about. Our faith, our fire, is what will save us because we trust that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. We are called to be open to God’s call, to the tongues of fire of the Holy Spirit. We are to use that fire to rekindle our faith and lead others to Christ. We will use our faith to overcome divisions. It will not be through confrontation but through love. The father of the prodigal son loved and welcomed him home. He did not chastise him. We are all called to be that father welcoming the lost home.
The Catholic Church is a lightning rod for critics especially today. We often argue for change in a society that has accepted certain aspects of life that are contrary to God’s law. The obligation of the Catholic Church, its leaders and its faithful, is to follow God’s law and lead society to God. It is to be the loving father sometimes cajoling, sometimes correcting, sometimes punishing but always with, and for, God. Two of the most divisive “hot button topics” in society today are legally protected but contrary to God’s law. Those are abortion and same-sex marriages. How did these issues become so tolerated? Is it because as Edmund Burke reportedly said “for evil to thrive good men must do nothing”? This is truer today than ever before. People are afraid to get involved and confront a wrong. It is easier to be complacent and “let someone else handle it”. They think that an individual cannot make a difference. Jesus Christ was an individual and 2,000 yrs later He is still making a difference.
We are called to be Jesus hands and feet here on earth. We are to be filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit and be like Him. Society, and some Catholics, think the Church should adapt to society and tolerate these and other divisive issues. The church cannot do that because it is not up to the church. The church cannot change God’s law. Human life is sacred and begins at conception. Marriage is “…a covenant by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring…” That is why God created man and woman from the man. In the Book of Genesis the Lord told them “be fruitful and multiply.” Human life is sacred and begins at conception. It was only 50 years ago that abortion came into the public spotlight as a legal practice. It started with a toleration of a small window of 6 weeks. That has now expanded, in some places, up until, or on, the day of birth. Now there are some states trying to allow abortion even after the day of birth. I am told that is called infanticide. It is murder. Imagine that- giving birth and then killing the baby and having the legal right to do so. How did our society ever reach such a level of depravity that this is even under consideration? Will the euthanasia of elderly people be next?
The only way we can spread God’s teachings in the world is by letting the fire of the Holy Spirit fill our soul and strengthen our faith. Let Jesus be our guide and we will be able to stand up against evil and correct wrongs. The Catholic Church, its leadership and its faithful, the church founded by Jesus Christ, is called to lead the way.
The last line of today’s second reading is “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.” We are all having an ongoing struggle against sin. Jesus shed His blood for us. He is asking us to love Him, have faith in Him and to follow Him. Jesus knows that it will not be easy but that with our faith we can be His instruments for change.
God Bless You