FEASTING ON THE WORD
"If you meditate on the Scriptures it will appear to you in its brilliant splendor." ―St. Pio of Pietrelcina
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-1 | Psalm 40:2, 3, 4, 18 | Hebrews 12:1-4 | Luke 12:49-53
Today’s Scripture lessons introduce to us living in the midst of adversity. In our First reading, Ethiopian eunuch Ebed-melech risked his life to plead for Jeremiah’s life to be spared from the cistern where the princes of Jerusalem intended for him to die. Our Second reading from the letter to the Hebrews reminds us that God wants us to run the race with endurance and finish it right. Finally, Jesus’ stresses the cost of discipleship warning us that new life with him may mean risking division and even separation from our families.
Fr. Mychal F. Judge, O.F.M. was a friar of the Franciscan Province of the Holy Name who served as a chaplain to the New York City Fire Department since 1992. At 68 years old, he continued to be in active ministry in the force despite the advice of some friends and family and the fact that he could retire comfortably. He was a great fire fighter chaplain and passionate about his ministry. The good friar was killed while administering Last Rites to New York City firefighters at the scene of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan following the collapse of the South Tower at 9:59 AM. He became the first officially recorded fatality of the September 11, 2001 attacks. His confidence in his calling was sure. He knew his calling — to save souls.
Jeremiah’s entire ministry was dedicated to warning the people of Judah about impending destruction because of their disobedience. This week’s lesson most likely occurred during the final months prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E. During this time, the princes of Jerusalem had Jeremiah lowered him in to a dry well. God, as is His way so often, used an insignificant person to touch off Jeremiah’s rescue. Ebed-melech informed the king that Jeremiah’s enemies had acted wickedly by putting him in the dry well. The prophet would die if he remained there because there was no more food in Jerusalem and he would be neglected. The courage of Ebed-melech to approach King Zedekiah on behalf of the prophet Jeremiah, buried alive in a dry well, is a call to action to each one of us. Ebed-melech's name means “servant of the king”. While his life and his allegiance might have been devoted to King Zedekiah, but this time, Ebed-melech was serving another King. We, each in our own way, are called to be faithful to our God, the King of kings and to our consciences in the midst of adversity. Our daily call is simply to listen to the Word of God and to act on the Word.
Adversity comes into our lives in many forms. It comes to us at work, at play, at home, wherever we are. Adversity can come in the form of little things in our lives, it can come in the form of major things. But whatever form adversity come to us we must remain faithful to God. Edwin, a priest and a basketball enthusiast, was having a perfectly horrible day in the court. He was a very good shooter but as soon as the game started he was missing all of his shots out of no where. On each attempt things got worst and worst. Finally, towards the end of the first half, he takes a wide open layup and misses again. That was it! He removed his jersey and angrily threw it away and sat on the bleachers. There he sat crying like a baby, a perfect picture of frustration. I’ve got to give it up! I’ve got to give it up! he muttered over and over again. "Basketball?" his coach asked. "No, the ministry!"
Athletes have to be disciplined in order to be successful. They are training every day to push themselves as far as possible in order to be successful in the midst of their competition. Athletes' can't follow an undisciplined lifestyle. Their strength would give out, their muscles would get soft and their health would fail. Runners can't carry any extra weight in a race because it would slow them down. In the same way, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews emphasizes that Christians must build their self-discipline in order to be prepared for the adversity that they will face. We must build our endurance by training our hearts and minds to focus on the truths of God’s Word, so that when we face adversity, we are ready to respond according to our training.
During China’s Boxer Rebellion of 1900, insurgents captured a mission station, blocked all the gates but one, and in front of that one gate placed a cross flat on the ground. Then the word was passed to those inside that any who trampled the cross underfoot would be permitted their freedom and life, but that any refusing would be shot. Terribly frightened, the first seven students trampled the cross under their feet and were allowed to go free. But the eighth student, a young girl, refused to commit the sacrilegious act. Kneeling beside the cross in prayer for strength, she arose and moved carefully around the cross, and went out to face the firing squad. Strengthened by her example, every one of the remaining ninety-two students followed her to the firing squad.
Jesus never promised only blessings. Life has a full share of ups and downs. We see many joys and sorrows in the world, many changed plans and new directions, many blessings that do not always look or feel like blessings, and much that humbles us and improves our patience and our faith. We have all had those experiences from time to time, and I suppose we always will. Because not everyone enjoyed justice and dignity, Jesus created more division than peace among people. In our Gospel, Jesus said that we may be surprised by those who reject us because of our faith in him. He wants us to have good relationship with our families but sometimes even our closest relatives will reject us. The road Jesus would walk would include deep hardship and suffering, and it may be no easier for the person who follows him. It is important that we are aware of the costs involved in following Christ lest we begin to follow and then abandon Him because the things of this world, including family, are more important to us. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer would say, there is no “cheap grace”. With faith and trust, we pray to make the difficult decisions for ourselves and for the future. <enrique,ofs>
Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum