Ebed-Melech sees Jeremiah in the cistern by Jim Padgett, (1984). Photo from Wikipedia

God's Word on Sunday: We thrive only in following God’s way

  • August 7, 2022

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Aug. 14 (Jeremiah 28:4-6, 8-10; Psalm 40; Hebrews 12:1-4; Luke 12:49-53)

Speaking the truth to power is a dangerous and sometimes lethal undertaking. But that is the mission of prophets of God — to tell those in power and the people of the nation what they did not want to hear.

Usually, the message is a denunciation of injustice and idolatry coupled with a call to repentance. Jeremiah’s message had a peculiar twist: rather than resisting Babylonian domination, they were to submit to their yoke. If they resisted, Jerusalem would be taken by storm and many would die, but if they surrendered, they would live and thrive. If taken into exile, they were to pray for the welfare of the city in which they dwelt.

That proclamation was not guaranteed to win Jeremiah any friends or followers. It was viewed as defeatism and treason, and there was the added complaint that it was damaging morale, especially among the soldiers. Many officials were complaining to the king, saying that Jeremiah had to go, so the king gave the order. They threw him into a deep cistern and left him to die slowly of hunger and exposure.

A wise and courageous court official convinced the king that this would end badly. He denounced those who had thrown Jeremiah into the cistern. The city was already suffering famine and the prophet would surely die. The king relented, and Jeremiah was hoisted out of the pit. It was a close brush with death.

The message that comes from God is not necessarily — and not usually — what we want to hear. God does not flatter us or sugar-coat His message, and God is not concerned with our opinions regardless of how fiercely we hold on to them. When we do things God’s way, we thrive; when we disobey and go our own way, disaster usually follows. Human history bears constant witness to this.

So often people feel alone and overwhelmed by life’s struggles and obstacles. They might feel that no one knows or cares what they are going through, and discouragement or despair might soon follow. Hebrews has a very different view. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, all of whom are cheering us on and providing support. They are like those who cheer on faltering long distance runners as they near the finish line. But our biggest supporter is the Lord Jesus Himself, the one who blazed the path for us and now stands at the end of it urging us onward.

Jesus endured pain and hostility in order to provide us with the support and encouragement we need. He does not want us to grow weary or lose heart. Jesus has “been there” and understands us fully. In Him there is no condemnation but only hope and encouragement.

Jesus was really intent on shaking things up. He saw His death and resurrection as a baptism and as something that would ignite a mighty fire on the earth. But the division of societies and families that He then described sounds eerily similar to our own day. It describes the dissolution of familial and social bonds as people turn on one another.

This is not the usual way that we view Jesus. What happened to the prince of peace? How do we reconcile the way that we have imagined Jesus with this description of agitation and division? Jesus came to reveal to humankind a godly way of being in the world. He offered spiritual teachings and revealed divine principles. He invited all to partake, but not all will — in fact, some may even actively resist the new humanity envisioned by Jesus, which requires opting out of many worldly values and definitions of success. Often that resistance can come from friends, colleagues and family, but we cannot let that deter us, even if it means sacrifice and turmoil.

Making a definitive decision for Christ includes unplugging from our culture and the “system” that human beings have built, a system that all too often exploits and crushes people. Unity is a worthy goal, but unity in God’s justice, compassion, equality and human solidarity. We will have peace when we live as God intended and not before.