Monday, June 23, 2008

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time
A cycle

Reading 1. Jeremiah 20: 10-13
Reading II. Romans 5: 12-15
Gospel. Matthew 10:26-33 (Fear no one).

It was not unusual in olden days for Kings and Princes to kill bearers of bad news. It was as if the messenger was himself responsible for the bad news. The prophet Jeremiah was such a messenger. His preaching or prophecy was that the Kingdom of Judah would be destroyed and its people would be led away as captives by their powerful enemies. And it was all because they had turned their backs on God.

Even today no one likes to hear bad news. Of all the prophets of the Old Testament Jeremiah has become most identified with bad news. The word, “jeremiad” comes from his name and means an extended prediction of impending doom. We don’t call them prophets anymore but our world is full of Jeremiahs. Cartoons used to depict shabbily dressed men carrying placards on street corners urging people to change their ways because the end of the world was coming. Today, we have global warming gurus also preaching disaster unless we mend our ways. Asteroids falling toward the earth, gigantic earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions are some of the themes of our most popular movies.

Jeremiah turned to the Lord when he was surrounded by danger and that is also the point of today’s gospel reading from St. Matthew. Jesus tells his Apostles to “fear no one.” These words, which the late Pope John Paul II used constantly, are not mere “pie in the sky.” The late Pope used them to help bring down the mighty Soviet empire in Russia and liberate 100 million people in Eastern Europe.

Today’s gospel account picks up right after last week’s account of the calling of the twelve Apostles. In effect, Jesus was calling them to be bearers of “good news,” not “bad news.” In another place He told them “as the Father sent Me, so I also send you.” They are to continue His work. The words spoken, the healings, the miracles, all these they can do also if they have faith and are not afraid. He tells them not to keep secret what they will learn and not to be timid.

What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light;
what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.

We must understand that even though the Apostles have a special place in the Church, whenever Jesus speaks to them, He is also speaking to us. He gave the Apostles a mission but we are all called upon to continue it and play our part. But we all have different parts to play. We can’t all be Pope John Paul II, or Pope Benedict, or Mother Teresa. Thank God, He’s spared us from such an aweful responsibility. Most of us won’t be able to perform great deeds of healing except the little acts of healing we perform every day in our own families and communities.

These good works that we do are essential not only for our loved ones, but also for ourselves. But speaking of good works, what are we to make of today’s second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans? Actually, ever since we re-entered Ordinary time about a month ago we have been going through this famous letter. In this letter St. Paul’s discussion of “justification by faith” has been the source of much controversy in theological circles. It certainly was at the center of the Protestant Reformation and remains today a divisive element between Catholics and Protestants.

Part of the problem today is the words or language used by Paul. Words like sin, justification, and transgression all seem foreign to our modern ears. What is Paul talking about, when he talks about sin and death entering the world? It doesn’t take an especially perceptive person to see that there is something wrong in our world. If we don’t want to call it sin or evil, we can call it pain, suffering, unhappiness, whatever. Where did it come from?

For Paul the problems of the world were so pervasive that he viewed them like powers or kingdoms that threaten us in the same way that powerful forces threatened Israel in the time of Jeremiah. These forces threatened to overwhelm the people of God and enslave it just as people today can become enslaved to anger, violence, jealously, greed, lying, or any of the many addictions that our society holds out to us as substitutes for God.

Paul saw that this evil was part of our human nature and that it had existed from the very beginning. At one point, the Lord had provided the Israelites with the Law in order to show them the way to happiness but the Hebrew Scriptures are nothing if not a chronicle of the many ways in which God’s people continually turned their backs on the Lord. We were meant for happiness but something has gone wrong. We were meant to live forever, but now we must all face death. This is why Paul places so much emphasis on the Resurrection of Jesus.

God has sent His only Son to overcome death for us. It’s as if the impregnable fortress of an invincible enemy had been overcome by a mighty warrior. Now, if we believe in Him and are not afraid, all we have to do is complete the work. Today, our gospel ends with these famous words,

Everyone who acknowledges me before others
I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.
But whoever denies me before others,
I will deny before my heavenly Father.


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