20th Sunday in O.T. (C); August 18, 2013
Jer 38:4-6,8-10 Ps 40 Heb 12:1-4 Lk 12:49-53
Deacon Jim McFadden; Folsom Prison
In today’s first reading Jeremiah is in the middle of a national crisis, political power plays, and civic turmoil. Jeremiah, speaking in God’s name, advocates that the people surrender to the their enemy, the Chaldeans. The effect on the political leaders and the military was devastating. Jeremiah’s behavior was seen as an act of treason punishable by death. The princes seized Jeremiah and threw him into a cistern to die from starvation. Jeremiah was compelled to speak in God’s name and the people didn’t like it. He paid the price.
Why did the people not listen to Jeremiah? Why did they prefer to believe in their political leaders instead? Many years ago in his Slow Train Coming album, Bob Dylan put it this way: “It may be the Devil or it may the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” We don’t like our Devils, our God-substitutes exposed and renounced. We get anxious, fearful, protective, and angry. We get very defensive so we seek comfort from those who tell us what we want to hear or seek safety from those who appeal to our fear and insecurities.
But, we are called to surrender our “whole heart, our whole soul, and whole strength” to the Lord (cf. Deut 6:4). To believe in Jesus—to accept that he is in every way ultimate, that he is the last word, that he is God’s word, that his Spirit is God’s Spirit, is to make him the center of our existence. Because Jesus is the Christ, he has the authority to call and to demand surrender of our heart, mind, and soul to him. If we do so, we’ll find our truest self. If we give ourselves to a false god, we’ll lose ourselves—we’ll never be happy. Jesus wants us to go beyond comfortable, safe, diluted Christianity to robust obedience to his word. Consequently, Jesus is the source of division because he is dragging us kicking and screaming out of our complacency and security into a life of faith, which involves trust and a willingness to venture into unknown lands. In so doing we leave behind our protective comfort and security systems. That’s why Jesus is the source of division because he challenges us to make an “either-or” choice.
Brothers, Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Nothing else ultimately matters because Jesus is the Way to our destiny; he is the truth of who God is and who we are; he is Life itself. He alone ultimately matters. Are we ready for that kind of commitment? Are we willing to go beyond comfortable religion, where we remain the center of our lives in which we’re in control.
If we’re not, we’re simply living “cheap grace.” Christianity without the willing surrender to the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship. And, Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ. If we relegate Jesus and what he stands for to second place—if we put our group ahead of him, then we have already denied him and for what he stands.
People of God at Folsom Prison, if we are not genuinely committed to Jesus, then we are already paying the price for being lukewarm. It is very difficult to be true to ourselves, if we disregard our deepest convictions and ignore the promptings of Christ through the Holy Spirit. As our brethren at AA and NA have long ago recognized, we are not in control of our life. Rather, we are carried along by life, and so we must make friends with its mystery, which is grounded in the One Who is God among us.
Fidelity to Jesus will exact a dear price; we’ll have to let go of those false idols that we think will give us security and happiness. But such surrender is the only way open to us if we are to be true ourselves and to God. Living the Gospel doesn’t create a life of pain and suffering, but fills our life with a sense of hope, reassurance that we are deeply loved, and confidence that we will realize our destiny in Christ Jesus.
Yes, the prophets spoke of God’s wrath and anger if the people didn’t honor their covenant with him, but they also spoke of faithfulness and his unconditioned love. Brothers, Jesus is taking that relationship to another level. We are called to be Christ-centered from which all good things will flow. Jesus is calling us to discipleship. What is our response?