20th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Aug 14, 2022



A group of Presbyterian ministers were attending their annual church convention at a private, countryside resort.  Several of them set out to explore the area, when they came upon an old bridge that traversed a quiet pond.

Unfortunately, they didn’t notice the sign, declaring that the bridge was unsafe.   As they started to cross it,  the caretake of the resort noticed them and came running.  “Hey, you there!    Get off of that bridge,” he shouted.

“It’s all right,” shouted back one of the ministers.   “We’re at the resort with permission.  We’re Presbyterians from the convention.”

“Well, if you don’t get off of that bridge,”  retorted the custodian, “you’ll all be Baptists very soon!”

Like those Presbyterians,  sometimes we all need a caretaker to come running to our aid, letting us know that the course we’ve chosen in life, is a precarious one.   We see that in all three of our scripture readings this weekend.

In our first reading, Zedekiah, who was appointed King of Judah in 589 BCE when Jehoiachin was taken captive to Babylon, didn’t want to hear what the Prophet Jeremiah had to say.   The long and short of it is that the king wanted God’s blessings but wasn’t willing to make any significant life course alterations to get them.   Instead, King Zedekiah desired a superficial religious faith that wouldn’t cost him anything.   But God doesn’t respond well to those who seek him, only for what they can get.     When the king fails to heed Jeremiah’s warning that Jerusalem will be overthrown and its people exiled to Babylon, the King decides to punish Jeremiah by dropping him in a muddy cistern to die of starvation.    But an Ethiopian, Ebed-melech (whose name means servant of the king) intervenes on Jeremiah’s behalf and obtains permission from the King to save Jeremiah from the cistern.

Despite the risks to his own personal safety, Jeremiah never hesitates to speak the word of God, in order that Judah might find hope in God’s love and concern for them.   It is significant to note that, for 40 years,  Jeremiah didn’t have any disciples, nor did he receive any acclaim or love from those in Judah.   Instead, he was beaten, jailed, threatened, and forced to leave his homeland by those to whom God had sent him to deliver his Divine Word.    The moral of the story is twofold:   First, that sometimes the message we have to proclaim or the action which is required of us, will not be a popular one.   –And secondly, that God doesn’t guarantee that we’ll will be freed from persecution or mistreatment.  But he does guarantee that he’ll be with us through it all and give us the strength to endure whatever hardship we’re asked to accept.

In our second reading from the letter to the Hebrews, in fact, we heard how Jesus himself endured great hostility from sinners, to the point of the shedding his Most Precious Blood, in order to save us.  By doing so, Jesus thereby gave us all, an example of enduring to the end, of overcoming whatever obstacles lay before us, of doing whatever God requires of us in life, so that we might, “with perseverance,”  run the race that is set before us.    The message that we can glean from Hebrews is that the only way we’ll be successful in our race in life, is if we keep our focus constantly on Jesus Christ.  He’s our inspiration and guide.   He’s our example, par excellence, of enduring suffering, ridicule, judgment and harsh words, from others for a higher purpose and a greater good.   And as we persevere and endure, so shall we win the prize of our well-run race —our salvation.  Such a message has enduring value for our times, when there seems to be so much wrong with the world and when people whom we respect, sometimes, let us down.  Jesus wants us to know that we don’t have to have all the answers and that such uncertainty shouldn’t be a cause of anxiety.

Rather,  Jesus asserts that He’s in control, that he knows what’s going to happen, and that we must trust in God’s providential love and care of us through it all.  When we do, we discover a peace and an inner freedom that the world cannot give —one which can endure whatever life may throw at us.

With that in mind, our gospel passage for today challenges us not to look at the world, and all the people in it, through rose-colored glasses.   No, Jesus wants to prepare us to live in the real world, with all of its many pressing problems.     Furthermore, Jesus challenges us to accept the fact that not all of those, to whom we are close, may embrace the Gospel.  Some, in fact, may even be against its vision of the world and the priorities it establishes.  But if that’s the case,  Jesus tells us not to cave.  He tells us not to succumb to the temptation to take the easier route, the more congenial route, the popular route, the route that puts our faith at risk.     Instead, he challenges us to do the exact opposite— to kindle the fire of our faith so that it grows larger and larger each day and is evidenced by all, with whom we come into contact.    I prefer the New Catholic Bible translation of verse 40, to the one that we heard from the NRVC translation proclaimed today.    In the translation of the NCB, Jesus proclaims, “I have come to set fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already blazing!”  A blazing fire!   Not just some kindling!     Just as a bonfire is hard to ignore, and attracts others at a long distance away, so too, our faith must be evident in the daily interactions we have with people and especially our family members.    It must be exercised when it would be easier to look the other way or when it would be easier to harbor resentment and a hardened heart than it would be to forgive.  It’s at these times that our faith has an attractive quality to those without faith.

What Jesus detests is a lukewarm faith, or where we’re just going through the motions.   What Jesus hates is when we hide our faith.  What Jesus can’t stand is when we try to privatize our faith and not share it with others.  Jesus can spot a faker a mile away and he’ll call us out on it!   No, the kind of faith that Jesus wants us to express, is the kind that’s internalized, the kind that spreads to another person contagiously, and becomes a blazing fire all around us.  Such a faith cannot be ignored and has the power to lead others to the Savior of the World.

It’s a faith that’s meant to grow stronger and larger, from the day of our baptism.    That baptismal consecration brings with it, the joy of belonging to Christ, but also the commitment to suffer for Christ, if necessary.  Pleasing the world is not a part of faith.   Being popular among others is not a part of faith.  St. John Chrysostom once remarked, “If you knew how quickly people would forget about you after your death, you will not seek, in your life, to please anyone, but God.”   Wise words indeed!

It’s this conviction that’s at the heart of Jesus’ words in today’s gospel, when he says, “I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under, until it is completed!”  (Lk 12: 50)  The baptism that Jesus is talking about is not his baptism in water, but rather what that baptismal consecration requires of him—  to suffer and to be crucified on a cross for our sins—to endure the excruciating physical pain that would follow, and the spiritual pain as well, of being abandoned by his closest disciples and even, for a while, by his own Father in Heaven.   Jesus questions whether his followers today truly appreciate and understand the extent to which he was willing to go,  just to forgive our sins and to bring us into right relationship with God.     If we want to honor Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, let us live by faith.  Let us make that faith a blazing fire, that ignites the whole world with the fire of God’s love.    



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