August 18, 2013 — Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The readings for this 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time are not very comforting. From Jeremiah being thrown into the cistern to the struggles of the “race of life” in Hebrews, to Jesus warning us that families will be divided against one another in following Him there seems to be intense conflict.
Stewardship, of course, can produce conflict. Husbands and wives may disagree on the ways to live lives of Christian stewardship because it may require sacrifice, and it may change what our priorities in life are. These same struggles can exist between parents and children, brothers and sisters, neighbors, and even those of us who share a faith community.
Jeremiah is considered by some to be the second most important prophet. He is widely deemed by many historians and theologians as the author of the Old Testament Book of Jeremiah, as well as First and Second Kings and the Book of Lamentations. Jeremiah’s entire life is a study in conflict. His first conflict was with God as Jeremiah was hesitant and refused to be a prophet until the Lord interceded. Then throughout his life as a prophet he was in conflict with leaders and people constantly. In today’s first reading he is thrown into a cistern (a deep well to gather and store rain water) which is filled with only mud. This is one of many instances of when he suffered to do God’s bidding. The point is that a life of following God is not easy.
The Bible teaches us through comparisons, similes, figures of speech. Our second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews likens life to a race. The passage maintains nonetheless that to live a Christian life of stewardship requires us to be in the race, not as a spectator but as a participant. Stewardship means we have to make a commitment. Stewardship is a spiritual race, not a physical race: “…persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.” The late Msgr. Thomas McGread once said, “When it comes to stewardship, every day can be a struggle.” Nevertheless, to complete that race, in fact to compete in that race, is filled with joy and contentment.
The Lord’s words in the Gospel from Luke may seem harsh. “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.” He is speaking, of course, of His death on the Cross, which is in a sense His final baptism which frees us all from sin and despair. He dies so that we may live. Using a comparison, His crucifixion might be likened to the birth of a child. The mother is filled with anxiety and understands the pain that birth produces, but she also understands the incredible joy and satisfaction that waits when it is over. Jesus may look at His suffering and death on the Cross in the same way.
His suffering on the Cross culminates with the words, “It is finished.” Truly His race, His suffering, His providence, His sacrifice are completed. We are not called to that pain and that suffering. However, we are asked through stewardship to make that commitment, to be willing to face all of the obstacles there may be, even conflict and division, to be disciples of the Lord.