12th Sunday of O.T. (A); June 25, 2017
Jer 20:10-13 Ps 69 Rom 5:12-15 Mt 10:26-33
Deacon Jim McFadden; SJB
Ringo Starr once sang that “If you want to sing the blues, you’ve gotta pay your dues, and you know it don’t come easy.” Applied to today’s readings, especially Jeremiah and Matthew, if we’re going to follow the strange Way of Jesus, we better be prepared to accept the consequences, which will come hard and often.
Jesus has predicted that his disciples will be flogged, dragged before governors, delivered up to councils, made to flee from town to town, ostracized, and hated—all this because they are associated with Jesus. Why should they be surprised because “they” have done the same things to Jesus. The servants, who are members of his Mystical Body, the Church, will go the way of their Master; the disciples will go the way of their teacher; those in the house will go the way of the master of the house. The cross of Jesus will be the cross of his followers. Persecution is inevitable. As someone once said “If you’re going to follow Jesus, you’d better look good in wood!”
Why? Put simply, a Christian is a sign of contradiction because our vision which is grounded in sacrificial, self-giving love that promotes justice and peace, will call into question the prevailing values of the dominant consciousness of our society. The False Kingdom of this world is based on the illusion that we can be happy by obtaining the goods of the world; so, we pursue the deities of money, status and acclaim, control and manipulation, and hedonistic pleasure. In our society we see this displayed in over-the-top consumerism, nationalism, militarism, and a warped sense of freedom that puts choice above human life. In the False Kingdom, which is the collective extension of the Ego, does not try to destroy the Good News, it must die; it knows that: that’s why Jesus’ followers are persecuted.
At this prospect we shake with fear. The prophet Jeremiah felt the heat: “Yes, I hear the whisperings of many: “Terror on every side! Denounce! Let us Denounce him!” All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine. Perhaps he will be trapped, then we can prevail, and take our vengeance on him” (Jer 20:10).
Confronted with such hostility anger, and resentment, we may wonder, “Geez, I go to church, I play by the rules, why aren’t I loved and admired? Why all this negative blow-back?” We may think to ourselves that it would be better to soft-pedal the truth about ourselves. Why should I put myself and those whom I care about through such an ordeal? Why don’t we settle for a domesticated Christianity in which we get along with the dominant consciousness of our society by going along with its secular values?
Yet, if we don’t speak—if we don’t denounce the idolatrous practices of our culture—the exploitation of the poor by the wealthy and powerful, the toxicity of racism, the lies and deceit of those who exercise temporal power, can we live with this cowardice? Can we be true to our baptismal promises in which we were anointed priest, prophet, and king? As members of the Body of Christ we are called to witness to Christ in our here and now situation. Each one of us is called to give witness to the Gospel values by word and example and that may mean, at times, being a “sign of contradiction,” in our families, in our working places, in the wider society .
If we fold, if we become homogenized, safe, comfortable Christians, then we will become T.S. Eliot’s people, “living and partly living.” The choice we have is living the life in which I am the center of my life, my life is about me, and I am in control. Or, we embrace the Way of Jesus in which He is the center, our life is about Him, and He is in control. We can’t have it both ways. As our Lord says quite clearly, “You are either for me or you are against me” (Mt 12:30).
Today’s Gospel reminds us that we do have a responsibility to stand up and be counted. And, Jesus will be there with us: “If anyone declares himself for me in the presence of others, I will declare myself for him in the presence of my Father in heaven. But the one who disowns me in the presence of others, I will disown in the presence of my Father in heaven” (Mt 10:32-33).
Many of us are afraid of losing our lives if we give witness that Jesus is Lord. In parts of the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America, Christians are losing their lives for their faith. Indeed, there have been more Christian martyrs in the 20th and 21st centuries than in any other time of our Church history. But, some will be willing to make compromises to survive physically.
There is, however, a greater danger. As Jesus says, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; fear him rather who can destroy both body and soul in hell” (v. 28). The greatest fear is not that we may be killed but that we may be seduced into betraying those Gospel values and our relationship with Jesus on which our integrity as human persons depend. To save our “bodies” at the expense of denying the Truth who is Jesus, at the expense of rejecting Love, at the expense of Justice, at the expense of genuine freedom, at the expense of Communion with God and human Solidarity, this is the real danger. That is the real death.
Brothers, the way a seed withstands the scorching heat of the sun is by developing roots. Developing roots means knowing and holding onto the deeper realities of faith, which can only be cultivated by a deep and abiding prayer life, by a daily reflection of Sacred Scripture, by active participation in the Sacraments, especially Confession and the Eucharist, and by serving others, especially those who are most vulnerable.
These deeper realities of faith always have to do with knowing who we truly are: namely, a beloved child of God, who is meant to be in communion with the triune God and in solidarity with our brothers and sisters. The only people who can accept the consequences of following Jesus are those who are in touch with their own souls and who have grounded themselves in the energy of God’s love. Only they will have the courage and resolve to persevere in the face of persecution. Amen.