Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Book of Jeremiah supplies this weekend’s first reading. Jeremiah wrote at a time when life was hard for God’s chosen people.
Only briefly was life good for God’s people. Their nation was unified under one ruler for a relatively short period of time, comparatively speaking. They enjoyed only one Golden Age, namely the years of the reign of David and then the time of the rule of David’s son, Solomon.
After Solomon, the country divided. Weakened, often at odds among themselves, the two resulting kingdoms never attained the level of prosperity and contentment that the single nation had known under David and his son. Moreover, dismembered and quarreling with each other, the two Hebrew states were attractive prey for ambitious neighbors.
All this was bad enough. For prophets such as Jeremiah, the worst aspect was that the people had grown sluggish in their obedience to the Commandments and in their reverence for God. The prophets saw in this deflation in religious enthusiasm the principal threat to the future security of the people.
In other words, the people had brought bad times upon themselves.
This reading from Jeremiah reflects this sad state of affairs. It calls the people back to God. Only by being faithful to God will they regain security.
St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans supplies the second reading. A verse read on this weekend, namely Romans 5:12, is key. Its teaching is simple but profound, a basic declaration of authentic Christianity. Humans themselves introduced sin and evil into the world via the sin of Adam. Jesus, and Jesus alone, brought salvation, repairing the damage inflicted by human sin.
Matthew’s Gospel provides the last reading. To understand any Gospel text, it helps to recall that the Gospels were not written at the time of Jesus. None of them is a diary of the Lord’s days on earth, written each day as the life of Jesus unfolded. Rather, they are recollections of Jesus, all written many years after Jesus by persons who either knew the Lord or who had information from others who literally had heard Jesus or had met Jesus.
Therefore, the context surrounding the writing of each Gospel is important. It is not as if an Evangelist invented what was written and put his fiction forward as the teaching of Christ. Each holy writer applied what Jesus taught to events of the day in which the Gospel was written.
Critical to understanding this weekend’s reading is knowledge of the peril facing the early Christians when the Gospel actually was written. The surrounding culture thought them to be fools, and even worse. This is why the law had turned against them, and they faced horrifying persecution as a result.
In this text the Lord encourages the Apostles, bracing them for what they will encounter. At a time when Christians, and so many others, were accorded no respect, it must have been most uplifting to know that God treasured every hair on their heads.
Times have changed since the first Christians endured the bitter hostility of their neighbors and of the mighty Roman Empire. Then again, times have not changed. Thankfully, Christians today, at least in this country, have no reason to fear that the police will suddenly break down their doors to arrest them for the crime of Christianity, but the culture in which we live is boldly hostile to many of the basic ideals of the Gospel.
These readings speak to us. Just as Jeremiah warned his contemporaries that turning away from God is the doorway to disaster, certainly to eternal death, Paul reminds us that Jesus alone is the source of life and joy.
The Lord encouraged the Apostles. He encourages us to be strong. The reward will be immeasurable.
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