HOMILY FOR THE TWENTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C (AUGUST 14)
Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and pastor of St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish
The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)
Jeremiah was not a particularly well-liked prophet. Doom and gloom one might say. We are told in the first reading that he was demoralizing the Hebrew troops. The reason they say this, which comes just before our reading today, is that Jeremiah was telling everyone to get out of the city. They couldn’t and wouldn’t win. Babylon was going to overtake them.
Now we have to remember that prophets speak only what God has told them to speak, but they were only hearing the human message of doom. The princes in charge of the army wanted him out of the way before he scared all the soldiers and they took off.
The King, apparently, didn’t agree with his princes, so he gave in to them, by telling them to do whatever they wanted with Jeremiah. Unfortunately, or fortunately for Jeremiah, they threw him into a dry well, into the mud. He didn’t drown but he would soon starve for there was no way out.
One of the officers of the King felt that that was a horrible way to die, to starve to death, and he reported what the princes had done to Jeremiah to the King. The King had mercy on Jeremiah and had him taken out of the well. What we don’t hear int he reading is that the King kept Jeremiah under guard, and did not let him run free.
The King here is compared to God in the Psalm today. Jeremiah waited patiently in the cistern. The Psalmist sings: God drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.
The lesson? God is our deliverer who will have mercy on us in our great need or distress and will help us. But there might be a delay, as there was in both the Jeremiah story and the Psalm. Our prayers are not always answered immediately.
As we see in the second reading today, Jesus also had patience, enduring the cross and disregarding the shame of dying such a despised death. Jesus is the role model of patience even in great suffering, so, as St. Paul says, we must just continue to persevere and run the race that is set before us, confident that God will hear our prayer.
Now how does all this relate to the “fire and brimstone” Gospel we have today which is probably out of our comfort zone. We have to remember that Jesus was not all apple pie and lovey-dovey! Jesus too was prophetic and was telling us the things that God the Father had given him to see. Like Jeremiah, Jesus is telling us that we are going to have quite a time of it in the world. Jesus and the religion he preaches will bring division, division in households, division in families, divisions in nations. This prophecy as we know from history is certainly true. Even within the religious communities there has been and is division. Families have been divided over religion, particularly in marriage. There is division in our nation today, and we are fooling ourselves if we don’t think that religion is at the base of much of it. Jesus saw all that. He knew it was coming. He told us it was coming. He has brought fire to the earth, he says. And he was, of course, right.
Imagine how that must have made Jesus feel, preaching the kingdom of God and love for neighbor – to know what it would bring. Jesus says, “I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed.” Now remember, that this section of Luke for the last weeks has been the journey to Jerusalem, to Jesus’ death. Luke uses Jesus’ saying here to emphasize that journey to his death.
Jesus also says that he “came to bring fire to the earth”, which is his prophetic vision. But fire has many meanings in Scriptural tradition.
It can mean pain and burning, but it can also mean judgment, purification and the even the Holy Spirit. Surprisingly, this reading is cut short today and we don’t get the next section where Jesus says that we can look at the sky and predict the weather (he obviously was not speaking about DC weather reports), but they can’t see the signs from God in the present time.
This was true of most of the prophets who said things to allow people to see and hear the things which they were blind to.
Do we see the signs that God sends us to today? Do we listen to the prophets that he sends us today? And how do we tell if someone is a false prophet? The signs of the times today are very scary. I am frightened for us, for our town, for our nation. I think there are voices of prophets out there, trying to show us the right path, but we need to constantly pray that we hear them, and do the hard things they demand to make our world a better lace. First and foremost is Christ himself, and we need to read and hear his words more than ever before. I ask you to take some time each day to read the Gospels and meditate on Jesus’ words. Remember, they are the words of eternal life.
This is about as “fire and brimstone-y”as I ever get in a homily, but my words are inspired by Jesus’ words today – still Good News if we listen to what he says!
God bless us all.