AUGUST 14TH, 2016: TWENTIETH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
In those days, the princes said to the king:
“Jeremiah ought to be put to death;
he is demoralizing the soldiers who are left in this city,
and all the people, by speaking such things to them;
he is not interested in the welfare of our people,
but in their ruin.”
King Zedekiah answered: “He is in your power”;
for the king could do nothing with them.
And so they took Jeremiah
and threw him into the cistern of Prince Malchiah,
which was in the quarters of the guard,
letting him down with ropes.
There was no water in the cistern, only mud,
and Jeremiah sank into the mud.
Ebed-melech, a court official,
went there from the palace and said to him:
“My lord king,
these men have been at fault
in all they have done to the prophet Jeremiah,
casting him into the cistern.
He will die of famine on the spot,
for there is no more food in the city.”
Then the king ordered Ebed-melech the Cushite
to take three men along with him,
and draw the prophet Jeremiah out of the cistern before
he should die.
Brothers and sisters:
Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,
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.
For the sake of the joy that lay before him
he endured the cross, despising its shame,
and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God.
Consider how he endured such opposition from sinners,
in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart.
In your struggle against sin
you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.
Jesus said to his disciples:
“I have come to set the earth on fire,
and how I wish it were already blazing!
There is a baptism with which I must be baptized,
and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!
Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?
No, I tell you, but rather division.
From now on a household of five will be divided,
three against two and two against three;
a father will be divided against his son
and a son against his father,
a mother against her daughter
and a daughter against her mother,
a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”
Years ago there was a horrible accident at one of our local amusement parks. A woman was thrown from a roller coaster type ride and killed. The investigation following the accident showed her death was totally preventable. She simply hadn’t been “locked in.” The young man in charge of that function was too embarrassed to tell her that because she was overweight he couldn’t click the latch on the belt which would have held her on the ride.
Many of us can identify with that worker. We’d also like to live as hassle-free a life as possible, avoiding situations which would create tension between ourselves and others. On one hand, he certainly avoided the tension which could have resulted from telling her she was too obese to be on that ride. But on the other hand, his reluctance to speak out cost her life.
I presume from today’s three readings that God’s prophets frequently find themselves in parallel situations. They’re chosen by Yahweh or the risen Jesus to be the conscience of the people; they’re to proclaim God’s word. Yet, as we hear in our Jeremiah passage, there are good reasons why they’re often tempted to keep their mouths shut. “Jeremiah ought to be put to death,” the princes say. One way to make certain the prophet doesn’t deliver God’s word is to kill the prophet. Works every time.
Though Jeremiah is eventually delivered from the princes’ hands, I presume every time he opened his mouth again to tell the people what Yahweh wanted of them, he remembered this near miss. The next time he might not be so lucky. No wonder in chapter 20 he wishes he’d never been born.
This “prophecy thing” is very important for Christians. The earliest Christian author, Paul, presumes each of our communities is blessed with at least one person who has the Spirit’s gift of prophecy. He’s convinced other Christs can’t function correctly unless their members understand what the risen Jesus wishes them to do. That seems to be one of the reasons Luke’s Jesus wants his followers to know, “I have come to set the earth on fire . . . . Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” Those who dare imitate him must be aware of the divisions in society such an imitation will bring about.
Perhaps that’s why the unknown author of the Letter to the Hebrews insists we constantly “keep our eyes fixed on him (Jesus).” Only by focusing on him will we be able “to persevere in running the race that lies before us.”
Before any of Jesus’ disciples suspected he was divine, they were certain he was a prophet. Though he never demanded they imitate his divinity, they knew from the beginning he expected them to integrate some of his burning prophetic charism into their own lives.
Normally we expect our sacred authors to tear into their readers for not listening to the prophets and carrying out their words. But today the author of Hebrews and Luke’s gospel look at prophecy from the other side. Both tear into us for not being brave enough to proclaim even the small bit of God’s word with which the Spirit has gifted us. Though the vast majority of us aren’t “full-time” prophets, as other Christs we frequently run into situations in which we say nothing where something should be said.
We shouldn’t pretend to be overly pious, but especially among family and friends neither, for instance, should we hesitate to confront racial or prejudicial remarks. Certainly wouldn’t want anyone close to us to be flung off the ride.