Sunday, August 7, 2016

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 14, 2016

First Reading Commentary
If you'd like, go back to the beginning of this chapter to get a clearer reason as to why Jeremiah's death was sought.  It's only three verses but in summary Jeremiah had spoken the words revealed to Him by God - words which were not favorable to King Zedekiah's city because Jeremiah prophesied that it would be delivered into the hands of the king of Babylon. 
By following the example of Saint John the Baptist, all Scripture both the Old and New Testament must be read while pointing towards the Lamb of God.  Jeremiah prefigures our Redeemer as he speaks God's truth but is falsely accused.  The people wanted to kill Jeremiah; and King Zedekiah, much like what the Gospels tell us about Pontius Pilate when dealing with Jesus, leaves Jeremiah's fate in the hands of the people. 
Being thrown into the cistern prefigures Christ descending to the dead; and being drawn out of the cistern foreshadows our Savior's Resurrection. 
Interestingly, the statement of there being "no more food in the city" translates a little differently in the Hebrew text, the Latin Vulgate and the Septuagint (LXX).  The word "food" literally translates in all three of these ancient texts as "bread".  We can be a little prophetic ourselves and see bread as a prefigurement of the Bread of Life and view Christ's burial into the tomb with the same uncertainty of our own fate as the apostles surely experienced and conclude that having "no more [bread] in the city" means that as a result of His death, He Who called Himself the Bread of Life was no longer with us.  Thankfully, that fear and uncertainty would last only three days.
Second Reading Commentary
What the author of the Letter to the Hebrews really instructs us to do is to get rid of everything that hinders us from living a life of virtue.  The imagery used here is that of being in a stadium.  The word "race" used in this text translates better as "contest" in the ancient Greek text.  You have to kind of place yourself in an ancient Olympic games setting.  The custom of the athletes of those days was to strip themselves of their garments; otherwise it would hinder their athletic performance.  Likewise, being on Christ's team means that we must strip ourselves of sin and all that would get in the way of living a Christ-centered life.  And yes we are surrounded by a "great cloud of witnesses" – retired athletes, one might say, because they have already competed and were given their prize; and now they cheer us on.  Of course, these witnesses are none other than the saints. 
This text tells us that Jesus endured "opposition from sinners".  We are sinners but that which attacks us is not always what others do to us or the circumstances of life – sometimes it is having to deal with our own weaknesses and being able to push aside quickly our own concupiscence which is a scar that was inflicted upon us by original sin. 
Contemplating the Face of the Captain of our team and the glory He enjoys by enduring far more than He asks of His team players is our strength.  And He has promised that we will never have to take on more than we can handle. 
Getting away from the stadium imagery, what we endure in this life is ephemeral and what we gain is eternal.  Jesus, under the familiar title of "Sign of contradiction" is the cure for despair and faintheartedness.  Christ is not really our leader in the traditional sense but much more – Moses, for example, was a leader.  Christ is the Author and Finisher of our faith.  He is the One Who delivered faith to us and He is the One Who will bring our faith to its final perfection.
Gospel Commentary
What hovers around the beginning of this text are many conjectures as to what Jesus really means by "fire".  Saint Luke may be recalling, as he frequently did, the prophecy of Malachi in which the prophet foresees the coming of the angel of the Lord like a refining fire separating good from evil (cf. Malachi 3:2-3).  This theory conforms well with the preceding seven verses leading up to this Gospel text which deals with discrimination, that is, the fulfillment or non-fulfillment of the will of God.  The fulfillment of God's will and the role of Jesus may explain the next verse about His baptism and His anguish. 
Using Saint Mark's Gospel (10:38-39) as a comparison, baptism as it is used here would seem to mean the Passion.  What does Jesus mean by being anguished or "hemmed in", as the Latin Vulgate translates, until this baptism is accomplished?  It may be an echo of what comes to us from the mystical soul of Saint John the Evangelist and his Gospel.  Jesus said: "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth will draw all things to Myself" (John 12:32).  Saint John in the next verse goes on to explain that Jesus by this statement was signifying what sort of death He would undergo.  And the confinement of being nailed to the Cross may partially explain the hemming in or "being pressed" as the Greek text translates; this is the anguish that Jesus feels until He will say: "It is consummated" (John 19:30).  Jesus endured an unimaginable amount of physical suffering but the anguish He expresses surely is not only caused by physical suffering, but also the pain of waiting until the evil that has been done by man's fall from grace will be undone by His salvific act.  Another possibility for the source of our Lord's anguish is His foreknowledge that some would accept His teaching and some would not. 
With Jesus possessing a love that is unfathomable, one can only imagine the grief that is endured by noncompliance.  Many of us are familiar with the broken heartedness caused by giving love that was not returned.  Even in our limited-conditional capacity to love, that pain of having our hearts broken is difficult enough to bear; but when considering a love that is infinite, that pain can only be imagined and our imagery will fall far short of the reality.  In fact, as is often taught in devotionals, Jesus didn't die from Crucifixion but from a broken Heart.  
Jesus proclaims that He came to bring not peace but division.  Saint Luke suggests this in his earlier writings with the prophecy of Simeon: "Behold, this Child is set for the ruin and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted" (Luke 2:34).  Thus "come to establish peace on earth" must not be thought of as a purpose but instead a consequence.  Surely at this point also resting in the back of Saint Luke's mind are three previous verses: "To enlighten them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death; to direct our feet into the way of peace" (Luke 1:79) – "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men of good will" (Luke 2:14) – "And He [Jesus] said to the woman: 'Your faith has saved you; go in peace'" (Luke 7:50). 
Sadly, this division of which our Lord speaks has afflicted many of our own households.  There are some cases where one spouse of the household is a devout follower of Jesus while the other spouse is lukewarm or even an agnostic.  And many parents know the pain of having their children grow up and leave the Church.  And there can also be a division of members in a household when one doesn't adhere to the same faith as another.  This form of suffering like all suffering will find its purpose in prayer and acceptance by being coworkers with Jesus in the work of redemption.