Gospel reflection for Aug. 14, 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

While the Kingdom of Heaven is a peaceable kingdom, the reality of our human existence is of conflict and dissention. We are divided along many distinct lines: race, gender, ethnicity, language, religion, ideology and in many more subtle ways. 

The one thing that most people -- religious and secular -- cannot abide is the prophet. In specific Old Testament terms, a prophet is a person, called by God, to speak his Word to the people, calling them to conversion of mind and heart. Not infrequently this also had some political and social overtones. The prophets of old were not only speaking in esoteric and religious terms; they also got very practical, even arguing for or against certain political alliances and parties. This is certainly true of Jeremiah. In the history of Judaism, he is one major prophets, but he was very unpopular -- one might say even unsuccessful -- and he suffered greatly for his prophetic message and tone. Eventually, according to an ancient tradition, Jeremiah was assassinated by his fellow exiles in Egypt. 

Although we know Jesus as the Messiah and the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, he took a prophetic stance throughout his public ministry. Although he was arguably less ”political” than Jeremiah, and perhaps even John the Baptizer, he did nonetheless rile up the religious and political leaders of his time. Jesus has a clear prophetic message and called his disciples and, subsequently, the Church, to be prophets in the world.

St. Paul, more than the others, took that prophetic role to heart and incorporated such into his self-consciousness. There are clear parallels between the writings of Paul and the life of Jeremiah. It seems that Paul saw himself as a new covenant Jeremiah. 

Reluctantly, Jeremiah took on the role of a prophet, and he certainly struggled with his mission throughout his life. 

Jesus, of course, took on his role as prophet, messiah, Son of God, as a free and necessary consequence of the Incarnation. Yet, there is evidence in the Gospels that even he, at times, struggled with his place in eschatological history. Jesus knew from the outset what Jeremiah came to know through the course of his preaching: that ultimately, they would be rejected. 

In the Gospel passage this weekend Jesus instructs his disciples that they, too, would undergo rejection and suffer much for the proclamation of the Gospel. So, while we like to think of the preaching of Jesus as one of peace and reconciliation, we instead come to see that his preaching will cause as much disunity as unity; of discord as peace. 

This is often hard for us to hear. Yet, the experiences in our own families, our community, our nation, show us otherwise. None of us are immune to the consequences of our faith in Jesus Christ and our commitment to living out the Gospel message. Even among the disciples of Jesus there is disunity and conflict on many very basic issues regarding Jesus, his teaching, and the execution of that teaching in the world. Now more than ever, Christians are deeply divided around social issues, with some choosing to follow the way of the world, and others remain faithful to the tradition. Even there much debate exists over the source and handing on of that tradition.

We often look idealistically at the Church and are saddened or scandalized when we encounter division, backbiting and jealousy. Our faith and its practice do not so much make us saints here on this earth, as it does highlight our sinfulness so that we might come to know God’s mercy and forgiveness.This can be very unsettling when we expect to find peace in our daily experience of faith.

While we as Catholics have always known the suspicion and distrust of our non-Catholic neighbors, we must be prepared now as much as ever, to remain steadfast in the face of opposition, ridicule and misunderstanding. 

Jesus indeed teaches us that we will know peace -- peace that comes from remaining faithful to him and to his teaching. We aim for peace, not in this world, but in a world to come. We work now for the Kingdom so that someday we might share in its glory. Yet we know, as have generations before us, that today is not the day.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.