20th Sunday of Ordinary time, cycle C

14th August 2016

The first reading is from Jeremiah. The man of this name was a prophet round about 600 BC, with a very difficult message to deliver but nonetheless a necessary truth. Because the people in general had abandoned their faith and were worshipping false gods, Jeremiah had to say that they would be punished and eventually this was to be their defeat and the capture of many of them and their exile in Babylon. Obviously people were not pleased with this message and Jeremiah was often threatened and sometimes even imprisoned, and all for just doing what God wanted of him – telling them of their forthcoming downfall. Today’s extract is about one such incident. It makes better sense to read from the beginning of the Chapter rather than the extract in the lectionary (verses 4-6 and 8-10), although then one encounters a number of names perhaps difficult to pronounce. The psalm that follows seems appropriate for Jeremiah’s plight.

The second reading from Hebrews (12:1-4) comes after last week’s reading which was about faith, with outlines of examples of Old Testament characters who showed great faith, thinking they realised what God’s will was and set out to make it real. In this week’s reading Jesus is held up as the paragon of faith in the life that He led, but climactically in the manner of His death. Like Jeremiah in the first reading, Jesus’ message was shocking to many people – we only have records of it from those who saw the positive side of it; but it must have come across as very disruptive and critical, particularly to the leaders of a society which focused on wealth, power and the externals of living and of religion. So He is the prime example for us, the hero who encourages and thus enables us to live our lives of faith. In the two verses following our reading, the writer presents the readers with challenging words of a father to his loved child – something to ponder from the book of Proverbs. These verses will be quoted at the beginning of next week’s second reading.

The gospel we have for today (Luke 12:49-53) follows neatly after these words from Proverbs, because of the drastic situation that it talks about using the words fire and baptism to describe these experiences. It may relate to the recorded announcement by the Baptist that Jesus would bring a new baptism of Spirit and fire. The divisions that Jesus is said to foretell in this reading are serious splits within families and between generations; it is not something which we experience or at least not so extremely, as is predicted. For early Christians at the time Luke is writing (about 70 AD) being a Christian was often risky and caused family splits and opposition from one’s society; the words Luke uses here might be influenced by these experiences.

 

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