20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

First reading: Jer. 38:4–6,8–10

In those days, the princes said to the king: “Jeremiah ought to be put to death; he is demoralizing the soldiers who are left in this city, and all the people, by speaking such things to them; he is not interested in the welfare of our people, but in their ruin.” King Zedekiah answered: “He is in your power;” for the king could do nothing with them. And so they took Jeremiah and threw him into the cistern of Prince Malchiah, which was in the quarters of the guard, letting him down with ropes. There was no water in the cistern, only mud, and Jeremiah sank into the mud.

Ebed-melech, a court official, went there from the palace and said to him: “My lord king, these men have been at fault in all they have done to the prophet Jeremiah, casting him into the cistern. He will die of famine on the spot, for there is no more food in the city.” Then the king ordered Ebed-melech the Cushite to take three men along with him, and draw the prophet Jeremiah out of the cistern before he should die.

Second reading: Heb. 12:1–4

Brothers and sisters: Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God. Consider how he endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.

Gospel: Lk. 12:49–53

Jesus said to his disciples: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

In other words

Fr. Simon Boiser, SVD (Germany)

Working in an NGO for social justice, I used to support poor farmers in their demonstrations against rich land grabbers, who took their ancestral lands using illegal tricks and intimidation. I joined those farmers in their picket tents when one day, a group of hired goons with guns dropped by and asked us, peaceful demonstrators, to evacuate. We resisted at first, but after weeks of defiance, the leader among the farmers surrendered by taking bribe money. He told me, “They threatened me and my family. They would give it to an assassin, who will then kill me and my loved ones if I did not agree to their terms.”

Later my own father learned about this and asked me to leave the NGO immediately. But I resisted full of youthful idealism, “No! This is a just cause. We have to defend the poor and oppressed.” Fearing for the life of his son just like the bribed farmer, my concerned father pleaded with me, “Politics can kill you. Who will then take the responsibility if that happens? The NGO? The Church? It will be your parents who will bear the unbearable pain afterwards.”Out of parental obedience and fear, I stopped.

It is not easy fighting for a just cause; it takes tremendous courage and commitment. It could also be an enterprise with a high price because one’s own life is at stake and the lives one leaves behind. Prophet Jeremiah also fought for God’s cause, which led him to be thrown into a cistern, where he could have died. Fortunately, he was saved. But in his 40 years of faithful ministry, Jeremiah was beaten, jailed, threatened, and even forced to leave his homeland. God does not guarantee that his servants will escape persecution, even when they are faithful.

Being a true disciple of Jesus also means making hard choices because Christian discipleship often disturbs life and relationships. Jesus does not teach hatred for family members, but he clarifies that all relationships must be secondary to following him. Jesus’ ethics and mission differ so radically from those of the world that division is inevitable. Jesus demands loyalty and commitment, sometimes to the point of severing other relationships.

Are you willing to risk your family’s disapproval in order to follow the Lord? Our mission as Christians somehow partakes of Jesus’ mission, bringing fire on earth. Let us pray that we have more clarity about what God is calling us to do, and to do it with Jesus, with passion and without fear.

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