Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: Jeremiah 20:10-13
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 69:8-10, 14, 17, 33-35
Second Reading: St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans 5:12-15
Gospel: According to St. Matthew 10:26-33
“Lord, in Your great love, answer me.”
These are the words of prayer distilled to its most concentrated essence. No matter the cause, no matter the injustice, no matter the physical or emotional or spiritual disease, it all comes down to an appeal to be heard by a loving God.
The words of Psalm 69, as well as those of Jeremiah, place the supplications of those in need within the necessary confines of God’s love, and thus God’s will. The Psalmist declares, “For Your sake I bear insult, and shame covers my face.” Jesus did not invent the notion of suffering for the love of God, but, as in all things, He did fulfill it.
Prophets like Jeremiah suffered for the same reason that Jesus did – he followed the call from God to bring truth into a fallen world. Those who oppose the truth are not always the best audience for a prophet, and so Jeremiah bemoans the fact that “All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine.” With friends like that…
Just prior to the verses in this weekend’s reading, Jeremiah bemoans the fact that he tried to stay quiet: “I say I will not mention Him, I will no longer speak in His name. But then it is as if fire is burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding back, I cannot!” So God inspired Jeremiah to stay true to his vocation. The words of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel – “Fear no one…And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” – were surely placed in the heart of Jeremiah during such difficult moments. What other message could have enabled Jeremiah to continue with his work and submit to his trials?
Strengthened by that fire within, Jeremiah cries out: “the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph.” As a reward for his faithfulness under duress, God tells him to carry around a wooden yoke to symbolize the slavery that the people will receive at the hands of the Babylonians. Our Catholic sense of biblical symbolism can’t help but draw us to see the yoke as the Cross of Christ, a Cross that Jeremiah bears with patience and humility as he is mocked by the false prophet Hananiah.
False prophets tended, then as today, to very often have the ear of those charged with the welfare of the people and the common good of the nation. Hananiah’s false narrative – the one accepted by the king and people – was that times were about to get better and the yoke imposed on the Chosen People by the King of Babylon would soon be broken. As a way of demonstrating his “prophecy” he broke the yoke that lay across Jeremiah’s shoulders.
Jeremiah’s next prophecy not only contradicts Hananiah, but it lets all who will listen know that God will not be mocked: “Go tell Hananiah this: Thus says the Lord: By breaking a wooden yoke bar, you make an iron yoke!”
In a time when so many feel that iron yoke in devastating ways it is so important to remember the plea in Psalm 69: “Lord, in your great love, answer me.” But it is equally important to remember that while we wait for that answer we must also heed the words of Jesus: “Do not be afraid.”