12th Sunday in Ordinary Time A – June 25, 2023

 

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time A – June 25, 2023

Jeremiah 20: 10-13; Romans 5: 12-15; Matthew 10: 26-33

Theme: “Do not be Afraid of Those Who Kill the Body but Cannot Kill the Soul”

Since last Sunday we have started reading chapter ten of Matthew’s Gospel called “The Mission Sermon”. Note that Matthew recorded five large sermons of Jesus in his Gospel. This is in reference to the first “five books” of the Bible called the “books of Moses” because he intends to present Jesus as a New Moses. These five sermons are - The Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7), - The Mission Sermon (chapter 10), - The Mystery Sermon (chapter 13), - The Mercy Sermon (chapter 18), and – The Mount of Olives Sermon (chapter 24-25).

Today, we continue our meditation on the “Mission Sermon”. Note that this subsection is divided into three parts. The first part (the Gospel passage of last Sunday was taken from here) begins with the narrator mentioning the names of the twelve disciples (Matthew 10: 1-4) and describing how Jesus sends them out on a mission (vv. 5-15). The second part (this is our passage of today) recounts how Jesus prepares them for what they might face along the way in their mission journeys. They might be persecuted because of the Gospel that they will preach. But Jesus exhorts them to fear not because God who protects even the sparrows and who knows the number of hairs in their heads will protect them (vv. 16-36). The third part (which will be the reading of next Sunday), is a call to radical discipleship. Jesus demands his apostles and each of us to do three things: First, we must love him more than we love our fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters. Second, we must be willing to take up our crosses and follow Jesus even to death. And third, we must show hospitality to his ministers. (vv. 37-42). 

The scripture readings of last Sunday called us to fulfill our part of the responsibility in the new covenant, (“Sacred agreement”), that we have with God through Jesus. God already did his part. He “justified” or “reconciled” us through the blood of his only Son Jesus Christ on the cross (last Sunday’s second reading). Our part of responsibility in this new covenant is to obey him completely and keep his new covenant. To do so, Christians need ordained and lay ministers who can take care of them spiritually. That was the concern of Jesus in the Gospel when, at the sight of the crowds who were coming to him, his heart moved with pity because these crowds were abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd”. He then sent out his twelve disciples on a mission to minister to the lost sheep of Israel. We learned that like these apostles, Jesus continues to send each one of us out on a mission to minister to our brothers and sisters by calling them to keep God’s covenant and obey his commandments. But before we start the ministry, we need to be prepared for what we may face while out on a mission and how we can act accordingly. This is what this Sunday’s scriptures teach us.

In the verses that precede the Gospel passage of today, Jesus instructed his newly sent out on a mission regarding the difficulties that they may encounter in their ministry. People may reject their message, mock them, and persecute them (vv. 16-34). Now, in our passage, he, first, encourages them to “speak in the light” and proclaim on the “housetops” everything that he instructed them in private. He calls them to not be afraid of all those who may obstruct their mission by rejecting, mocking, and persecuting them because they can just kill the body but not the soul. They should rather fear God who can destroy both soul and body (vv. 26-28). Second, He reassures them of the protection of God (vv. 29-31). These words of courage under persecution also apply to each one of us today. It is true that today many ordained and lay ministers abandon their ministries due to rejection, mockery, and any suffering they face. Let us consider these encouraging words of Jesus. If we give up, then Satan wins because his purpose is that the people may not grow up spiritually lest they obey God’s commandments and keep his covenant. So let us not make the devil win. God is our protection.

Our Gospel passage ends with this Jesus’ statement: “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.” (vv. 32-33). When we give up Jesus’ mission because of trials that we face is compared to denying him. But when we continue his mission amid all kinds of suffering means we acknowledge him before others. So, nothing can stop us from ministering to our brothers and sisters in our families, Church community, and society. We need to continue to acknowledge Jesus anytime and everywhere.

The first reading gives us the example of Jeremiah who was rejected, mocked, and persecuted because of the Word of God but he never gave up. To better understand this story, we need to review its full context. Our passage is part of the subsection of Jeremiah 17: 19-20: 18 which contains four units. The first unit (17: 19-27) and the last (20: 1-18) are set at the Benjamin Gate. The two central units are marked by themes of pottery-making (18: 1-23) and pottery-breaking (19: 1-15). We can already notice that our passage is a portion of the last unit (20: 1-18).

The first episode takes place at the Benjamin Gate.  This is the renowned of the gates of Jerusalem. The king is the only one who is supposed to use it. Jeremiah receives a commission from God to stand at this Gate and call Judah (the Israelites of the Southern kingdom) to repentance concerning the observance of the Sabbath. The Jews do not keep holy the Sabbath as God commanded their ancestors. Jeremiah warns them that if they continue to violate the day of the Lord, they will perish; but if they repent and obey God by keeping the Sabbath day holy and abstaining from all work on it, the city of Judah and all inhabitants will prosper. (17: 19-27).

In the second episode (18: 1-23), Jeremiah goes to the “potter’s house” by God’s command (18: 2) to observe how a clay pot is being formed on the wheel in the hand of a potter. God tells him that the house of Israel is like a clay pot in his hand. He has the power to destroy or restore them, changing his plans accordingly as they keep the Sabbath holy or not. (vv. 1-11). Yet, the people of Israel reject this message of God. (Vv. 12-17). They even plot evil against the messenger Jeremiah (v. 18). The prophet cries out to God for vindication against them. (Vv. 19-23).

Next, God instructs Jeremiah to gather some of the elders and priests, take a clay pot, and go to the Potsherd Gate near the Valley of Ben-Hinnom. There, Jeremiah must decry the sins of the people (19: 1-9) and smash the pot in their presence as a sign of how God will smash all people of Israel and their city. (Vv. 10-13). After doing everything as God commanded him, Jeremiah returns and stands in the court of the house of the Lord and addresses all the people with this same message of destruction (vv. 14-15).

The last section (20: 1-8), which contains our first reading passage, recounts Jeremiah's arrest. When the priest Pashhur, son of Immer and chief officer in the house of the Lord, heard Jeremiah’s prophecy, he arrests him and puts him in the stocks at the upper Gate of Benjamin in the house of the Lord (20: 1-2). Jeremiah prophesies exile and death against Pashhur and his household (vv. 3-6). Due to all these painful experiences, Jeremiah cries out to God and complains that his prophetic mission to which he was called has meant nothing but suffering. Whenever he speaks, people mock, laugh, reproach, and deride him (vv. 7-8). Yet, he cannot quit this mission because the Word of God burns within his heart like fire (v. 9). Now our passage (vv. 11-13) picks up here. Jeremiah describes how he suffers from his own people including his friends. He cites God as the only one who is with him. He believes that God is with him like a mighty champion. Therefore, although he suffers, he is convinced that his enemies will not triumph but rather they will be put to utter shame, lasting, and unforgettable confusion. (Vv.10-11). Then comes the prayer of Jeremiah to God. amid his sufferings, Jeremiah praises the Lord for He sees everything, “mind and heart’, and always rescues the life of the poor. (Vv. 12-13). The full story ends with Jeremiah cursing the day he was born because of all the miseries inherent to his calling (vv. 14-18).

I have recounted this full story of Jeremiah’s ministry and suffering to compare them with what is happening today in our time and societies. We can see the similarity between the sins that Jeremiah denounced at his time and those that the Mother Church condemns nowadays. For instance, Jeremiah called his contemporaries not to violate the Sabbath but to keep it holy. This is one of the Ten Commandments and still applies to the Christian Lord’s Day.  Yet, we see many Christians still do not respect the sanctity of Sunday as a day of rest and worship. Instead, for many Christians, Sunday has become a day for sports, shopping, and traveling for leisure. Also, the fact that Jeremiah decried the sins of the people of his time, he was mocked and persecuted. The prophets of our time who raise voices to oppose social sins of our time such as abortion and same-sex marriage are also not heard, mocked, and marginalized.

You and I are the Jeremiah of our time. We are called to exhort our family members, relatives, and friends to obey God’s commandments, especially that of keeping Sunday holy by attending Masses and resting. Also, we are called to continue to decry social sins that spoil our societies today. Amid all the mockery, rejection, and persecution Jeremiah did not give up. Instead, He had hope that the Lord was with him, like a mighty champion (Jeremiah 20: 11), he prayed to God and praised him amid suffering (v. 13), and he responded to the Word of God that was burning in his heart as if fire (v. 9). So, Hope in God, prayer life, and the Word of God constituted his spiritual strength. To continue ministering to our brothers and sisters even amid suffering, we are called to keep our hope in God, pray to our Lord always, and become familiar with the reading of the Bible and so let the Word of God burns in our hearts as if fire.  

May this liturgy of the Eucharist bring each one of us all graces that we need as we continue Jesus’ mission wherever we live. Amen.

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD

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