14 August 2016: Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Jer 38:4-6, 8-10 Ps 40:2, 3, 4, 18 Heb 12:1-4 Lk 12:49-53


Discipleship: difficult choices

Green_banner_sm During Ordinary time the Lectionary invites RCIA participants and the believing community to hear and to reflect on Jesus’ stories and teachings from his everyday ministry. This week’s readings describe a disciple’s conflicts in choosing to follow Jesus.

In the first reading from the book of Jeremiah, the military leaders charge Jeremiah with sedition and ask the king to put Jeremiah to death. Jeremiah’s prophecy divides Judah’s leaders and causes Jeremiah’s rejection and suffering. Ebed-melech, a non-Jewish Cushite (Ethiopian), intervenes with the king and saves Jeremiah’s life. The Lectionary editors chose this passage to parallel today’s gospel. Like Jeremiah’s prophecies, Jesus’ teachings about discipleship and the kingdom will cause division and will result in his rejection and death.

In the second reading from the letter to the Hebrews, the author reminds the believing community that we are inspired not only by our ancestors in faith–“so great a cloud of witnesses”–but most of all by Jesus, the “founder and perfector.” Jesus’ sufferings give us courage to continue our own discipleship, even to martyrdom.

In the gospel Jesus tells his disciples in prophetic style that the kingdom he preaches is a refining and purifying fire. Luke gives us two related sayings about Jesus’ mission:

  • I have come to set fire: Jesus is conscious of his prophetic mission; fire symbolizes the coming eschatological (end time) judgement. Jesus requires each disciple to accept his message and to choose to follow him. Jesus is also conscious that his mission will result in his death: “the baptism with which I must be baptized.” Earlier in Luke’s gospel, John the Baptizer introduced Jesus as one who brings a cleansing fire (Lk 3:16-17).
  • I have come to create division, not peace: Up to this point, Jesus has tried to unite people who are in conflict (see my reflection for the 18 Sunday in Ordinary time, Year C). But like the prophet Jeremiah, Jesus also knows that confronting the comfortable to change (metanoia) causes conflict. Jesus’ message will divide his audience. In describing the signs of the end times, Hebrew prophets and apocalyptic writers list the destruction of family relationships (see Micah 7). Earlier in Luke’s gospel, Simeon identified Jesus as a sign of contradiction and division (Lk 2:34).

Jesus confronts RCIA participants and the believing community with difficult choices and hard-to-hear consequences. Discipleship shouldn’t feel comfortable. Through baptism we are anointed prophets. Like Jeremiah and Jesus we are called to speak and to do the difficult things that faith requires. We are supported by a “great cloud of witnesses”–the Greek word μάρτυς (MAR-tus), meaning witness, also becomes the English word martyr. The Hebrews’ author reminds us that we have “not yet shed blood” as disciples, but we might at some point. We have been baptized with water. Are we willing to accept the baptism that Jesus chose?

—Terence Sherlock


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