Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
Readings: Jer 38:4-6, 8-10; Ps 40:2, 3, 4, 18; Heb 12:1-4; Lk 12:49-53
Where's the good news?
The word "Gospel" means "good news" but after listening to the Gospel reading for this Sunday we could legitimately ask, "Where's the good news here?" Jesus, who we most often associate with peace and forgiveness, presents himself rather as a source of division. "I have come to set the earth on fire " and "Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No I tell you, but rather division." Is this really Jesus, the "prince of peace?"
Our first reading from the Prophet Jeremiah is hardly more upbeat. For preaching the destruction of Jerusalem as God commanded him, he is thrown into a muddy cistern by King Zedekiah. Clearly, according to these readings, it seems that a close relationship to God hardly guarantees a life without conflict or suffering-quite the contrary.
While at first the Gospel seems to contradict our image of Jesus as a bringer of peace, in reality it challenges the superficial idea that our lives will be free of suffering and opposition if we declare ourselves Christians. In order to understand this reading we need to put this part of the Gospel of Luke in context. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and opposition to his message is mounting. He anticipates his suffering and death at the hands of the religious and civil authorities and wants to warn his followers that the consequence of faithfulness to his message of love could very well be persecution and death.
Paralleling the story of poor Jeremiah who has long been considered in the Christian tradition as a foreshadowing of Christ, both men suffer as a result of preaching God's message to people who shut their ears to its consequences. In Jesus' case he has come to preach peace, but a real peace, not a kind of truce or lack of violence that allows injustice and oppression against the poor and marginalized to continue. Before preaching peace, Jesus preaches love that does justice. It is a love that takes seriously the dignity of each person and seeks to bring about a change in our ideas about "how things are" in society by putting before our eyes the Reign of God characterized by love. The consequences of this love challenge the existing order that relegates the poor to suffering and exploitation. The old saying that we cannot have peace without justice is part of the message of this Gospel reading.
The division and struggle that Jesus speaks of today as a result of proclaiming the Reign of God have been well documented throughout history. From Fr. Bartolomé de las Casas in the 16th century who challenged the oppression of Native Americans by the Spanish conquistadores to Dr. Martin Luther King in the 20th Century who proclaimed the dignity and equality of all human beings, those who have taken the Gospel seriously have been persecuted, misunderstood, and even martyred. There has been a "great cloud of witnesses" throughout history willing to run the risk of persecution and death in the name of Christ. That is the good news! Are we, who identify ourselves as Christians, ready to run the same risk?
Rev. Mark Francis, CSV
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