20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sunday, August 18, 2019

First reading: Jer. 38:4-6,8-10

In those days, the princes said to the king: “Jeremiah ought to be put to death; he is demoralizing the soldiers who are left in this city, and all the people, by speaking such things to them; he is not interested in the welfare of our people, but in their ruin.” King Zedekiah answered: “He is in your power”; for the king could do nothing with them. And so they took Jeremiah and threw him into the cistern of Prince Malchiah, which was in the quarters of the guard, letting him down with ropes. There was no water in the cistern, only mud, and Jeremiah sank into the mud.

Ebed-melech, a court official, went there from the palace and said to him: “My lord king, these men have been at fault in all they have done to the prophet Jeremiah, casting him into the cistern. He will die of famine on the spot, for there is no more food in the city.” Then the king ordered Ebed-melech the Cushite to take three men along with him, and draw the prophet Jeremiah out of the cistern before he should die.

Second reading: Heb. 12:1-4

Brothers and sisters: Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God. Consider how he endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.

Gospel: Lk. 12:49-53

Jesus said to his disciples: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

In other words Fr. Sisoy Cellan, SVD (University of San Carlos, Cebu City)

A woman said in a church meeting, “My husband died some years ago. I lost my firstborn in an accident. At the age of 30, I became a single mom to a two-year-old girl. I was groping in the dark—that’s how I saw the Light.” A man listening to her blurted out, “The only light I can talk about is the one that comes from my health insurance. My family business collapsed, and my salary is not enough to support my family. We’ve sold our car, and our house could be next. I feel that God has betrayed me.”

Sometimes our faith in God and personal tragedies can be difficult to reconcile. The underlying assumption seems to be that in moments of helplessness, God should be able to help and rescue us; otherwise, what good is He to us?

Today’s gospel offers no solace from life’s misery. The statement of Jesus that He has come to set the Earth on fire and wishes that it were already blazing could mean nothing to those who have lost hope. It could even be used as proof of the foolishness and absurdity of the notion that there is a Divine Being ruling over the entire universe and is in control of our lives. Why should we believe in Him if it means no peace but division, no love but hatred, and no protection from suffering? The One who is “destined to be the downfall and the rise of many in Israel” (Lk. 1:34), yet at the same time called the “Prince of Peace” (Is. 9:5) is a figure of contradiction. His peace spells trouble for many of us.

Christian life is not the safest place to be, certainly not the most peaceful. We could lose sleep struggling to forgive our enemies, skip meals caring for the troubled, leave homes to go to a far-flung mission area, volunteer to teach poverty-stricken children, donate a portion of our salary to the poor, fight for the life of the unborn. The price of being a follower of the Lord is steeped with challenges and uncertainties.

Spiritual writer Michael Quoist said that “we do not have a before and an afterwards, but an infinity.” True, sufferings and pains are hard to bear. Nevertheless, seen in the context of infinity, they can strengthen our faith and deepen our hope.

Tags: Bible reflection, Witness to the Word