August 17, 2019 // The Sunday Gospel
Resist the pressure to turn away from Christ
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Book of Jeremiah is the source of the first reading for this weekend. Jeremiah is regarded as one of the more important prophets. Along with Isaiah and Ezekiel, Jeremiah is called a major prophet.
Jeremiah was active as a prophet during the reign of King Josiah of Judah, or between 640 and 609 B.C., 2,600 years ago. Generally, Josiah was seen as a good and upright king, loyal to God.
It is good to remember that kingship in the eyes of the devout ancient Hebrews was not a matter primarily of governing the country politically, or of conducting foreign affairs, or of commanding the military. Instead, for the faithful, 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 aware, and attentive to, the Covenant with God.
Very often, this expectation meant that prophets placed themselves in conflict with the powerful.
Jeremiah in this reading is certainly involving himself in controversy. He made enemies. Not everyone appreciated his demands to be loyal, above all else, to religious obligations. Indeed, enemies gathered to plot his death.
Despite the personal risk and ignoring the scheming of his enemies, Jeremiah, with utter determination, spoke that God deserved obedience. The Covenant had to be honored.
The Epistle to the Hebrews provides the second reading.
Written for a Jewish audience, eloquent and even majestically so, with 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 epistle’s section, read this weekend, says that Jesus was “shameless” even when dying the ignoble death of crucifixion. 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 is important to note that they were written not at the time of Jesus, but decades later. This Gospel, for instance, was probably written 40 years after Jesus.
By the time this Gospel was composed, hostility against Christians already was beginning to form in the Roman Empire. This hostility erupted into a full-fledged persecution. Even without legal persecution, the Christian ethic stood utterly opposite the prevailing culture. It was Christianity versus the culture.
The evangelist had to record in writing words spoken by Jesus to apply to conditions important to the evangelist’s audience. This being the case, it is easy to see what the Gospel in this reading quotes Jesus as predicting that peace would not inevitably occur on earth. Conflict was inevitable, as the attraction to sin was inevitable.
Humans have never automatically submitted themselves to God. The Lord’s prediction was frank and direct.
Life for Christians would not be easy. Christians must be prepared to withstand many pressures to turn away from Christ.
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, affirmed by the resurrection.
Nevertheless, in inviting us to discipleship, the Church never leads us down a primrose path. It is very honest.
It is being very straightforward in these readings. Following Christ often may require us to swim against the tide. Pushing us the other way will be the setting in which we live, those among whom we love, or ourselves.
As was Jeremiah, as was Christ, we must withstand all that is contrary to God.
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