20th Sunday 2019
Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10; Hebrews 12: 1-4; Luke 12:49-53
Not the most comfortable or, indeed, comforting set of readings: Jeremiah is persecuted and almost killed, the writer to the Hebrews speaks about fighting to the point of death, and Jesus, perhaps most shockingly of all, declares that He has come to bring, not peace, but division.
In Jeremiah’s case, we encounter cowardice on the part of the king. When the so called leading men approach him, demanding Jeremiah’s death, Zedekiah fails completely to stand up for what is right. “He is in your hands, as you know,” he replies, “for the king is powerless against you.”
Does that remind you of anyone? It makes me think of Pontius Pilate, washing his hands of responsibility for Our Lord, taking the line of least resistance. I am afraid too, that it reminds me of certain bishops, failing to stand up for falsely accused priests, hiding behind their Safeguarding Commissions, stating untruthfully “My hands are tied”.
Cowardly bishops have been a plague on the Church in recent years, and we must hope and pray that recent appointees are made of sterner stuff. We should remember, though, that this is nothing new. In the time of Henry VIII, of all the English bishops only St. John Fisher had the courage to stand up to the king, and he paid with his life.
Before we point the finger too eagerly though, we need to examine ourselves. Do we always stand up for what is right? Are there times when we take the line of least resistance, when we settle for comfort rather than truth or justice, the quiet life rather than possible confrontation? Of course, we shouldn’t go looking for confrontation, seeking to stir trouble, making a stand through obstinacy rather than a concern for truth, but there are times in all our lives when we must be valiant for truth, when we have to find the courage to say “This is what I believe to be right” and to hold to it.
I have mentioned previously my classmate from the Boys’ Grammar School who is a Methodist lay preacher. He and his minister are deeply troubled at present because the Methodist Conference has recently approved a motion accepting the validity of gay marriage, and seeking to conduct such marriages in church. Geoff and the minister sincerely believe this to be wrong, and must work out the consequences of their belief.
As Jesus points out, though, it is not only within churches that a concern for truth—and remember tht Jesus is the truth—will bring division, but also within families. I remember a lady informing me that, when she informed her family, many years ago, that she was becoming a Catholic, they put her out of the house. That story was not uncommon at one time: much more recently, a young man from an atheist background provoked a similar reaction when he announced that he had become a Christian.
A religious vocation too may provoke anger, distress, even rejection on the part of a family. Cherished parental hopes may be shattered, and the reaction may be a bitter one.
For all of us, the call to follow Jesus is a call to take up the Cross, and the Cross comes in many forms. When Our Lord speaks of a baptism which He must still receive, this evokes memories of His question to James and John: “Can you drink the cup which I must drink, and be baptised with the baptism with which I must be baptised?” Their positive answer led James to martyrdom and John to exile. Our “yes” to Jesus will lead us where He alone knows, but we would be very foolish to assume that our path will be strewn with roses.