Twentieth Sunday, Year C, 18 August, 2019: Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10; Hebrews 12:1-4; Luke 12:49-53
Don’t we know from experience that if we honestly attempt to live the Gospel, we find ourselves at odds with conventional values, expectations and even our own desires? An alternative is flight from my inner conflicts, creating scapegoats and villains, whom I then oppose, as if I were a crusader out to save the world.
When I become a crusader for a cause—rather than exemplifying the choices by which I try to live—when I become a crusader, shaming or coercing other people to conform to my expectations, am I fleshing out the Gospel? Isn’t the good, the self-sacrifice I’m called to actualize only good and life-giving when it is done freely?
What if I created a space for vulnerability, admitting my faults, allowing others to learn from their mistakes—as, hopefully, I’m learning from mine? Who among us gets everything right all the time? Who is so morally superior as to be a fool-proof example for anyone else?
I firmly believe that Jesus is not actively advocating divisions in families or communities but admitting the inevitable consequences of following his lead. His more important message is that following the Gospel will not produce a nicer, prettier world of soothing affirmation. That’s another form of denial and escape from responsibility.
A positive example of what Jesus is describing is Ebed-melech the Cushite in today’s first reading. This man may be a court official but he’s not even Jewish; his name isn’t even his own but a Hebrew name given him in the king’s service. It means “servant of the King.” He is, in fact, a dark-skinned Ethiopian who’s risen to a trusted position in the royal household; he may be a eunuch. This outsider seems to be the only person in the government with a conscience and risks becoming more isolated by daring to advise a weak and vacillating leader.
But he sees the injustice done to Jeremiah and recognizes him as a man of God; so he takes the risk and does the right thing, despite the consequences.
This is the generation who will experience the destruction of Jerusalem, exile as slaves, even death. There will be no peace, no happily-ever-after for Ebed-melech; but he chooses to do what needs to be done, despite the consequences.
Isn’t that what Jesus is talking about?