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20th Sunday of Ordinary Time

The battle between good and evil.  Today’s society has, to a certain extent, marginalized evil.  Yes, those things that are truly horrendous are recognized as evil, but we’ve grown somewhat complacent to how some lesser evils can lead one in the wrong direction.  Our readings this week try to stir things up to point us in the right direction:

Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10
Psalm 40:2, 3, 4, 18
Hebrews 12:1-4
Luke 12:49-53

Our first reading is from the book of the prophet Jeremiah.  Jeremiah, as we may remember, is that great prophet who foresaw and witnessed the beginning of the end for Jerusalem.  Our passage this Sunday takes place shortly before the fall.  King Zedekiah, the last king of Judah (placed there by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar himself) has always had difficulty with the aristocracy of Jerusalem.  Here the “princes of Jerusalem” are tired of Jeremiah’s continuing cries against them and his predictions of the ruin of Jerusalem.  Zedekiah is put between a rock and a hard spot, so in a move similar to how Pontus Pilot dealt with his troublesome prophet, told the princes to deal with him themselves.  So, they have him thrown down into a muddy cistern… a dry well.  One of the court officials, Ebed-melech, sees this and tells the king.  Zedekiah promptly tells him to have Jeremiah drawn out of the cistern, because even for all the trouble he’s caused, Zedekiah fears what might happen should the prophet of the Lord die on his watch.  Our Psalm echoes what we could imagine to be Jeremiah’s prayer while down in that well, “Lord, come to my aid.”

Our gospel is a continuation of our gospel last week from Luke.  Jesus has just given his disciples instructions on how to be vigilant and faithful servants, but now he’s telling them that he has “come to set the world on fire,” declaring that families will be divided.  Wait, what?  Did we hear that right?  Is this the same Jesus who taught us to turn the other cheek?  Jesus says he’s not here to bring peace, but instead to bring division and discord.  Strong words from the “prince of peace.”  What’s going on here?

This is a passage where we need to take a step back, pause, and pray.  There is much more going on below the surface with this passage.  Among other things, Jesus is fighting against the status quo, and the only way to fight this kind of complacency is to stir things up.  Jesus did come to create discord… to be that agent of change.  The “baptism of fire” he talks about is a reference to his coming death on the cross.  The task before his disciples is to join him in becoming those agents of change… to shake the people from their complacency and rebuild a relationship with God.  Jesus needs his disciples to understand that this mission is much more than a fight against the Sanhedrin or the Romans, it’s a fight between good and evil.

So how do we win against evil?  Perhaps our second reading holds the key.  Continuing our study of the letter to the Hebrews, the author teaches that we should rid ourselves of every burden, and keep “our eyes fixed on Jesus.”  If the power of God can help Jesus from death to resurrection, then consider how he can help us through our struggles.

Final thoughts:
The discord Jesus is talking about is that necessary disturbance to wake us from our complacency, like an alarm clock for our salvation.  Evil and darkness are real, but it doesn’t necessarily show itself right away.  Evil’s gasp is slow and seductive and methodical.  It starts with all good intention, or at least good excuses, but if left unchecked, not recognizing it in time, we could find ourselves in a place where it seems too late to turn back.  How do we fight this?  By “keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.”  If there’s one thing our experience of the Gospel teaches, is that there’s always a chance to turn back to God.


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