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God's Word on Sunday: Jesus blazed a trail for all to follow

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  • August 8, 2019

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Aug. 18 (Year C) Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10; Psalm 40; Hebrews 12:1-4; Luke 12:49-53

The lowest point in the long and unhappy prophetic ministry of Jeremiah was the day that he was thrown into a cistern and left to die. 

Jeremiah had committed the unthinkable and unpardonable: He had spoken the truth to power. He told the king and his counsellors what they did not want to hear, advising them to submit to the Babylonians. This was clearly not the way to win friends and get ahead in the world, but it is exactly what God had empowered and ordered him to do. 

Those in power do not like any sort of challenge to their way of thinking and acting and are quick to snuff out any challenge as soon as it appears. This is as true today as it was then. Think of how difficult it is to challenge the powers that be on climate change, fundamental justice, honesty or social policy. 

Jeremiah’s ministry might have ended in that dark hole, but for two things. First, this was God’s show and God was not finished. He would be protected. Second, it seems that at least some of those around the king were a bit wiser and more balanced. This is not always the case, as our own times attest. 

An Ethiopian counsellor advised the king to spare Jeremiah, recognizing the evil of what had been done. Additionally, it appears that the food supply in the city had dried up, clearly signalling God’s displeasure. 

The king relented and Jeremiah was hoisted out of the pit and restored to the land of the living. Tragically, his words were not heeded, and disaster befell the nation in 586 BC, when the Babylonians destroyed the city. 

When we heed the warnings that are given to us by the prophets whom God sends — and not all of them are religious — we avoid tragedy and disaster. Unfortunately, humanity seems to be tone deaf to guidance and challenge, especially when it disrupts cherished ways of thinking and acting.

We are not alone in this struggle. We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses — those who have gone before us — and they wait to see which path we will choose. 

Jesus was the pioneer in our faith, the One who blazed the trail ahead of us. He invites us to throw off the tremendous burden of sin and old ways of thinking and join the race to God’s kingdom. We don’t get there by a “business as usual” or “we have always done it this way” approach. 

If we are willing, Jesus walks beside us every step of the way — and He knows each step from personal experience. We can never say we are adrift, alone or without guidance.

The image of Jesus as meek and mild, warm and fuzzy, does not stand up to a close examination of the Gospels. He was no champion of the status quo or protector of unjust social, economic and political structures. Jesus spoke of His mission as lighting a fire on the Earth, and we would be deluding ourselves to confine that fire to religious enthusiasm. 

He did not come to merely establish another religion, but to do a remake of humanity. 

Perhaps we have heard this passage too many times to be shocked by it: He describes His mission as setting people against one another. Friends, family and colleagues will all be at one another’s throats. 

Jesus revealed to the world what it means to be authentically human. This is achieved only when we live according to the mind and heart of the Creator. 

This is threatening to many. The struggle of our own time, complete with its viciousness, polarization, anger and fear illustrates well the divide between those who cling to the “tried and untrue” and those who are beginning to hear and respond to the message of Jesus. Where do we stand?

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