Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 14, 2022
Jeremiah in the first reading is living the way of Christ 700 years before Him, being thrown into the well and mud for speaking the word of God. This wasn’t the only time they did things like this to him, he encountered great resistance and suffering. He was hated by the people of his time for warning them that they had become sinful and forgotten God, and that God was going to exile them if they didn’t turn their lives around. In the words God spoke to them through Jeremiah (6:16): “Thus says the Lord: ‘Stand beside the earliest roads, ask the pathways of old which is the way to good, and walk it; thus you will find rest for your souls.’ But the people said ‘we will not walk in it.’” Still true today.
Psalm 40 sounds like it was written by Jeremiah from down in the well. Like many psalms, this one begins with the author calling out to God in his misery. But then he knows that God will hear him, it’s a story of hope in the Lord. He says “Though I am afflicted and poor, yet the Lord thinks of me.” We may try to think of the Lord throughout our day, but do we realize that the Lord thinks of us all the time? It’s hard to imagine, but very comforting to realize.
St. Paul too was persecuted: tortured, drowned, lashed, stoned, and eventually beheaded for preaching Christ Jesus. All of the apostles but John were killed for the faith. In the second reading Paul makes a statement of hope through Jesus and to remember the saints who went before us in faith. The hope of heaven has to be greater than the pleasures of the world.
The Catechism warns believers that we should expect the testing of our faith often on our journey to salvation: "Even though enlightened by Him in who we believe, faith is often lived in darkness and can be put to the test. The world we live in often seems very far from the one promised us by faith. Our experiences of evil and suffering, injustice, and death seem to contradict the Good News; they can shake our faith and become a temptation against it. It is then we must turn to the witnesses of faith: to Abraham, who 'in hope... believed against hope'; to the Virgin Mary, who, in 'her pilgrimage of faith,' walked into the 'night of faith' in sharing the darkness of her Son's suffering and death; and to so many others: 'Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.'" (CCC 164-165)
Today’s gospel reading is quite different from most of the gospel stories. This appears to be a totally different side of Jesus. You have heard this passage before and it probably was quite unsettling. That’s not the Jesus we were taught, He was a man of peace and nice. But listen to the passion in His words, He is a man on a mission, He wants to set the world on fire with His message. He knows His final destination is the cross, and in these words He wants to waste no time in accomplishing the Father’s plan for Him. He knows He will not accomplish the whole world hearing His words, that it will be continued by His followers filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit, and He wants it to happen now. God lives outside of time, but Jesus the man did not, he was forced to live a day at a time like us. Does He seem a bit impatient with this restriction in this reading?
When Jesus says there is a baptism He must endure, He means the baptism fire of His passion and crucifixion. When He says “how great is my anguish until it is accomplished” recall His last words on the cross: “It is finished” (accomplished). It seems with the fire in His words here His anguish is not so much a feeling of apprehension of the suffering He will endure, but more of wanting to complete it, to get the fire of His followers started and knowing what it will accomplish for mankind.
And He knows there will be a price to pay for it, even in families. In Hebrews 4:12 it says “Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. No creature is concealed from Him, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of Him whom we must render an account.” That two-edged sword will also cut through families. The family division He is talking about, He was likely doing even in His time. You could easily imagine that several in the crowd hearing those words could nod their heads in sad agreement, in that many of His followers likely had family back home who disagreed with them for following Jesus. Houses divided, 2 against 3. How many there had a father, a mother, a son, a daughter, a mother-in-law (I told you he was no good for you!, following around that street preacher!) who were opposed to Jesus? Think of St. Paul before his conversion, he hated the followers of Jesus.
The theme for today is perseverance in adversity.
The message of this gospel has a parallel to John (15:18-21), Jesus at the Last Supper said to His apostles “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.” Then He tells them “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. They will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know the one who sent me.”
Have you ever noticed they difference between being a believer of Jesus, and the nature of people who do not believe in Him? It is like a great divide where communication is so difficult, and it often provokes great negative emotions in them. Meet someone who rejects the Catholic church and try to explain your love for the Eucharist: it’s nearly impossible to convey it to them. Over the last 2000 years Christians have been the target of the majority of persecutions for faith belief, and especially since the 20th century more have been martyred than the previous 19 centuries. Jesus provokes great anger in some people.
St. Augustine said the New Testament is hidden in the Old, and the Old is revealed in the New. Listening to the words of Jesus, read the prophet Micah (7:6-7): “For the son dishonors the father, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, and a man’s enemies are those of his household.” But then Micah says “But as for me, I will look to the Lord, I will put my trust in God my Savior; my God will hear me!” Quite the prophet 700 years before Jesus.
Think of our patron saint, Elizabeth Ann Seton. She was an Episcopal from a wealthy, respected member of society in New York. Beautiful, vivacious, fluent in French, a fine musician, and an accomplished horsewoman, she grew up and became a popular guest at parties and balls. But in a few short years she lost her beloved husband William and soon all their wealth. Visiting Italy, she fell in love with the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist while staying with Catholic friends. She couldn’t resist and became a convert. Her friends and society in New York turned against her with the news and she was left nearly homeless. She knew of this division which Jesus spoke, and yet her accomplishments were that fire Jesus spoke about.
Another person who suffered in the kinds of struggles with his family related to this gospel story is Dr. Scott Hahn. In his book entitled “Home, Sweet Rome” he describes his journey from a Presbyterian minister and college professor to becoming a Catholic. You can read a short outline of his story in this web article: The Scott Hahn Conversion Story (catholiceducation.org) When he made the decision to become Catholic, he faced serious opposition from his wife, relatives, friends, and church clergy. But he persisted, and not only eventually his wife converted, but he influenced other Protestants to follow him. He is considered one of the great Catholic apologists of our time. His children also converted, and last year his son Jeremiah was ordained a priest.
Theme in our Life Today
This gospel message is not just about family divisions of those who decide to follow Jesus causing division in their families with those who don’t agree. Sometimes the division isn’t from someone who found the faith but a family member who lost it. Who doesn’t have a family member who has left the faith, either gave it up or joined some other faith belief? It seems to have happened in every family. We all know of the painful effect this kind of division has caused.
The division can also be in how members chose a lifestyle, or are on a path that leads to sin. Parents who work hard to raise their children in the faith are often dismayed, saddened, and hurt by the choices their grown children make with their lives which are counter to the parents’ faith. Leaving the church, living in sinful relationships, being addicted to harmful behaviors, and even outwardly rejecting the parents faith can lead to painful divisions in a family. Marrying someone of another faith can lead to the problems Jesus describes between in-laws. Jesus is not so much saying “follow me and your relatives may turn on you”, but He is saying that following Him is going to point out the differences between people trying to lead a moral life and others who do not, and you will encounter this, and it could hurt. And if your faith is on fire as Jesus wished it would be, you cannot resist talking about Him to everyone. And some people you love may not be comfortable with that.
Jesus provokes the conscience. To those who know Him, this conscience is a constant reminder to do the right thing. But to others, that conscience is a bother like that horse fly that keeps relentlessly buzzing their head, and they sometimes react in an extreme way to shut down those thoughts. This can be seen in people in our society who live sinful lifestyles and want others to accept and approve of their sinful ways, as if, if enough people accept their sin then maybe they can shut down that voice of their conscience. In effect they hate what they know is the good conscience of others.
In the second reading Paul makes a statement that followers of Jesus would agree to strive for: “let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.” This is the difference of those who are opposed to following Jesus, and this makes for a conflict.
St. John Vianney said “You cannot please both God and the world at the same time. They are utterly opposed to each other in their thoughts, their desires, and their actions.”
To Prepare for this Sunday’s Liturgy, consider the following:
Practice saying grace before meals in restaurants and public places (with the sign of the cross)
When someone sneezes, say “God bless you”, not “bless you”
When you tell someone you will pray for them, do it with them now, right then at that moment
Let us pray:
This is a prayer by St. Charles de Foucauld that captures the spirit of abandonment and surrender that Jesus had to the Father. Commit to slowly and meditatively praying it for an entire week- then memorize it.
Father, I abandon myself to your hands. Do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you; I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures.
I wish no more than this, O Lord. Into you hands I commend my soul.
I offer it to you with all the love in my heart, for I love you, Lord, and so I need to give myself
to surrender myself into your hands without reserve and with boundless confidence,
For you are my Father.