20th Sunday Ordinary Time
Year C

Jeremiah ought to be put to death

On January 11, 1983, a couple of teen-age lads left a morning tutorial class at School No. 5 in Rochester, New York, drank three quarts of beer, and then stumbled back to gym class. Peter A. Castle, one of the seven tutors of this "hard-core" inner-city public school program, saw the pair come in and seized one of them by the arm. They were breaking the rules of the program, he said, so they must go home. The lad that Castle was confronting refused, drew out a knife and stabbed Peter in the heart. Castle slumped to the ground. "I told him not to mess with me," the youth cried out. The victim was taken to the hospital but was pronounced dead on arrival.

Teachers of inner-city problem youths assume a task full of risks. Peter Castle, 31, was ideally fitted for the job. He was 6 feet 4 inches and a born athlete. In fact, after high school he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates for their baseball team. But he had chosen to go on to college where he specialized in sociology and social welfare, He was married, but as yet had no children of his own.

Pete's chief virtue was his compassion for others. Typically, he had been one of the organizers of this tutorial program in which there was one tutor for every five or six kids. The rules of attendance and discipline were necessarily strict. But Castle knew that it was the personal relationship that counted. A hug and "I love you" did more than any tongue-lashing. Most of the youngsters appreciate this, and wept when Peter died. Barbara Vancheri, a reporter for The Democrat and Chronicle quoted the program supervisor on this point: "The problem with these kids is nobody every really cared. Peter cared."

The prophet, Jeremiah, also really cared for the fellow Israelites to whom God sent him as a prophet to remind them constantly of the divine law. But as today's first reading tells us, those who did not want to be reminded of God's law rose up against the prophet and imprisoned him. Luckily, Jeremiah was not killed. But it will never be thus. Too often the good were hated and treated violently, possibly because of their goodness. Loving one's neighbor is the riskiest of the commandments.

-Father Robert F. McNamara

Q437: How can today’s gospel (Lk 12:49-53) be “Good News” when Jesus says that he did not come to establish peace, but to cause division in families?

Jesus once again challenges our partiality for the “status quo.” We might think we are happy with our possessions, with our desire for more of them, and with our current way of relating to our “neighbors” and to God. Our “attachments” come in many packages, but they always divert us from becoming the “fully human” person that reflects God’s image. Jesus knew this, and always challenged his generation – and ours – to take another look in the mirror. You can listen to his message with two different pairs of ears: one pair hears Bad News, the other hears Good News. Division occurs only because of our response to Jesus.

You know the drill: forgive everyone 70 x 7 times; assist those in need like a Good Samaritan; seek first the kingdom of God; pray as if you meant it; become detached from all that comes between you and God (and neighbor). In modern parlance, it means stop being a dirt bag; stop hoarding and accumulating; tear down those “fences” that keep others out of your heart; love everyone, even that Samaritan; admit guilt and seek forgiveness; and so on.

No one likes to hear what they perceive to be “bad news.” Anything which changes the status quo is usually perceived that way, because we find “comfort” in the familiar. Even so, Jesus teaches us that a lot of our lifestyle is all “fake” or phony comfort. The only thing that matters is the total giving of Self – surrender to God’s will, and selflessness towards neighbor. That is the Good News, the message that is “divisive,” in the sense that it divides those who hear and accept the challenge to follow Jesus’ way, and those who reject both the message and the messenger. Modern examples are the abortion and euthanasia issues, which have divided our country on the basic issue of the God-given right to live.

We are all called to be a “Jeremiah” (First Reading) and speak out against the falsehoods that surround us. Yes, you will probably be persecuted for speaking the truth with love (Eph 4:15); but following the will of God leads to the greatest reward of all: eternity with Him!

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! “Faith” is not a bystander sport; it calls for discipleship in the full sense of the word, an active participation in the life of the Church plus full adherence to the teachings of the Magisterium (CCC #1816, 2034). Beware of new forms of idolatry, when one honors or reveres ancestors, power, money, politics etc. more than God (CCC #2213).

Stay The Course
Jesus' words today are a bit of a shock.  The Prince of Peace, the personification of non-violence, the one through whom God would reconcile all things in heaven and earth, tells us he has come to cause division and the most painful kind of division, within the family. How do we make sense of this? The words about division do not tell us what Jesus came for but they do tell us about the inevitable and paradoxical side effects of his mission of peace and reconciliation.

It is a message found throughout the Bible from Jeremiah to Peter and Paul. The prophetic mission is confronted by both acceptance and rejection. The scandal of the cross is not something we are supposed to get used to or become comfortable with. The cross calls us beyond what we can do, to push forward in spite of the inevitable tension and hostility. What about our experience of living the Christian life?  Do we pay the price, or is our version of Christianity so bland and non-challenging that no one could dream of giving us a hard time over it? The Letter to the Hebrews presents us with a Jesus as a model for perseverance through tough challenges because he had faith in the joy that awaited him. Jesus is the perfect model of faith. It was his trust in the Father that enabled him to say," Not my will but thine be done."  It is Jesus' trust in the Father that we are called to imitate – that is what will sustain us through rejection and opposition.

Father, we pray for humility to serve, strength to be detached, and patience to bear suffering. May they who suffer helplessly find patience, comfort, and hope in Jesus, your Son. May we learn from our own troubles to be sensitive to the sufferings of others and never fail to be ready to make the sacrifices demanded of us.