The Word for the 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10
Psalm 40:2, 3, 4, 18
We open with a reading from the prophet Jeremiah. Our scene opens with the princes of Judah looking to King Zedekiah to have the prophet Jeremiah put to death. The princes throw him into an empty, muddy cistern to die, but the king orders that he be taken out. What’s going on here? Clearly Zedekiah doesn’t want Jeremiah to die, but there’s much more going on here. We need to remember that Zedekiah was the last king of Judah. The northern kingdom fell to Assyria only some 25 years before, and it was the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar himself that put Zedekiah on the throne in Jerusalem in an attempt to create an ally in the region. Since then, however, the princes have been plotting against him, scheming with the weak remains of the Egyptian empire to put down Nebuchadnezzar and win freedom from Babylon. Zedekiah feels he’s caught in the middle, and it is Jeremiah who is trying to tell Zedekiah that his best and only option is to surrender to the Babylonian forces. What we have here is a battle of forces and of wills, but the circumstances have gotten so muddy it’s hard to tell which side is right. Not sure? Trust the word of the prophet who speaks the Word of God.
Our gospel, a continuation from where we left off with Luke last week, is even more confusing, if not disturbing. It has Jesus saying “I have come to set the earth on fire,” and declaring that families will be divided. Jesus is starting to sound a lot like king Nebuchadnezzar instead of the peaceful Good Shepherd. What gives? This passage would seem to indicate that Jesus came to create discord within the world… quite a different message than we are used to from the prophet who asks us to “turn the other cheek.” It reminds me of the quote from the Bhagavad Gita, made famous by Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer or worlds.” Is this what Jesus came to do?
This is one of those passages where you need to pause and pray, and realize that there is something much bigger going on here. Jesus did come to create discord. To shake up the status-quot. To rattle both the people and their leaders out of their complacency or their perceived understanding of how things should be. To shed light on the hypocrites and embrace the marginalized. To recognize that their fight wasn’t with the Sanhedrin or even the Romans, but something much larger… the fight of light and good against the forces of darkness and evil.
Evil and darkness are real, made worse by the fact that it’s grasp is slow, seductive, and methodical. It can grab you without your even knowing it, with all good intentions, but once you recognize it has you, it seems too late to turn back (Breaking Bad anyone?). Once again I think St Paul saves the day with our second reading: “let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us… keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus,” Sometimes with so much activity swirling around us, we don’t know where to focus. Don’t know which way to go. Paul reminds us to “not grow weary and lose heart,” and keep our eye on the prize. Keep your eye on Jesus. At the risk of sounding cliché… ask yourself “what would Jesus do?” Follow the light.