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The 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time
June 25, 2017

Click here to listen to this homily! (mp4 file)

    It’s a hot first Sunday of summer and we can be forgiven if we came this morning hoping for something a little light and breezy in the scripture readings - something reassuring and not too demanding - but, instead, we got a full court press!  The reading from Jeremiah was all about terror, denunciation and vengeance, and the gospel reading was deadly serious, too.

     With Jeremiah, we never get light fare. Jeremiah’s name is a synonym for plotting and persecution, destruction and doom. Jeremiah’s call came while he was in his mother’s womb. He was a marked man from the start. Nothing was ever easy for him.  God kept putting words into his mouth that got him into trouble.  Again and again, he railed against the kings and people of Israel for their repeated unfaithfulness to God, threatening them with famine, plunder, conquest and exile because they had abandoned the Covenant and engaged in the worship of false gods.

     No wonder people didn’t like Jeremiah, plotted against him, and even conspired to kill him; no wonder his prophetic utterances and outbursts sound a bit paranoid at times: “I hear the whisperings of many… ‘Let us denounce him! All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine.’”  And no wonder, either, that Jeremiah turned on his persecutors, asking God to put them to utter shame and confusion, to take vengeance on them and destroy them.

     All of that is quite understandable – maybe not very edifying, but certainly human. But if we compare Jeremiah with another persecuted prophet – I’m thinking of Jesus – Jeremiah comes up short. There’s a stark difference between Jeremiah’s anguished, angry attacks on his persecutors and the way Jesus dealt with his persecutors: Jesus, who remained silent before his executioners, refusing to strike back, Jesus who, when nailed to the cross prayed those amazing words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

     And the words of Jesus today from Matthew’s gospel, words he spoke to the twelve before sending them out on mission, are in marked contrast to Jeremiah, too. Jesus had just warned his friends that the message they preached would cause them to be dragged before the civil authorities, manhandled and beaten. Even so, he told them, they should not lose hope because God had the very hairs on their heads numbered. No need, then, to fear those who kill the body because they cannot kill the soul.

     You see, then, what I mean by the sharp contrast between Jeremiah and Jesus!  Both were prophets. Both had been called by God from their mother’s womb, and both suffered the fate of prophets for speaking truth to power. But Jesus took the prophet’s calling to a whole new level. Jesus blessed his persecutors, and proclaimed the persecuted and the peacemakers, the merciful and those who mourn to be blessed – heirs of the kingdom of heaven. How could he say such things, call such people blessed?  Only, I think, because he first knew those very blessings himself - he whose relationship with his Father was his anchor, his peace that could not be disturbed, no matter what sort of hatred and persecution swirled around him.

     All of this puts me in mind of another prophet, a modern one, who in his fight against the terrible evils and injustices of racism faced brutal opposition, constant threats and physical violence.  I’m thinking of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In one of his memorable speeches – the one he gave in Memphis only a day before he was cut down by an assassin’s bullet – Dr. King sounded a lot like Jesus (not so much like Jeremiah) as he instilled hope in people and kept a dream alive  “I’m happy tonight,’ he told the people. “I just want to do God’s will. We’ve got some difficult days ahead but it really doesn’t matter. Because I’ve been to the mountain top and seen the Promised Land! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”

     That image of being to the mountain top nicely connects Dr. King with Jesus who proclaimed his gospel of peace on the Mount of Beatitudes and who was gloriously transfigured – fired up for his mission - on a mountaintop. 

     But what does all this talk of prophets have to do with us?  It has everything to do with us. We have all been called to be prophets, anointed as prophets. At our baptism.  At our Confirmation. And living out that prophetic calling is really our life’s work as Christians.  And a steep climb it can be at times, especially when we have the courage of our convictions and we’re not afraid to espouse unpopular positions or to use our voice for those who have no voice: to stand up for what is right – for the common good, the good of the many instead of for the narrow, selfish interests of the few.  So, yes, a steep climb it can definitely be. But why should we get off any better than Jesus?  Or Dr. King? Or Jeremiah, for that matter?  And don’t forget that we, too, have been to the mountain top.  We have.  Many times.  In fact, every time we gather to celebrate the Eucharist we’re on the mountain top. We get a glimpse of the Promised Land, and our eyes, too, get to see “the glory of the coming of the Lord!”

     My friends, when we leave this mountain top today may we have new energy to be the prophets God is calling us to be!

Father Michael G. Ryan

 

 

 

 

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