Jeremiah 20:10-13, Romans 5:12-15, Matthew 10:26-33
“Fear no one.”
Jeremiah stood alone in his views and was hated. The truth is unpopular but necessary like oxygen.
On the Cross, Jesus was deprived of earthly oxygen by asphyxiation, but when his mission was completed, he filled our humanity with the eternal oxygen of the Spirit of truth.
We need to access that Spirit in whose fire we were baptized. We need to truly live and breathe by dying with Christ. The Cross is still standing, not far away in Golgotha, but within our own hearts.
Stat crux dum volvitur orbis (The Cross stands still as the world is spinning). This motto of the Carthusian monks can help us face fear and uncertainty, for fear is like a spinning tornado. The Cross is like the eye of a tornado, which is “as still as death,” according to an eyewitness (Will Keller from Greensburg, Kansas).
“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32).
Silent, hidden prayer, like that of Mary standing at the foot of the Cross (Stabat Mater), unites us with Jesus, who takes us to the Father in the Spirit. Christ is the still and radiant Lodestar within and beyond the cosmos to which everything looks for its fulfillment.
This haiku poem distills the essence of living in union with the Stat Crux within:
Silent, hidden force Lures all things to the Lodestar, Aligned with the Source.
(This reflection was inspired by Fr. Victor’s homily on Jeremiah for the 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A).
To listen to today’s homily, please select the audio file below:
Our first reading this Sunday is from the prophet Jeremiah, a lonely prophet–some might say a dreary prophet. He had the misfortune of living at a time when people were unquestioning about the prevailing wisdom of their day.
The ruling king in Judea was smart and popular; his advisors unanimously backed him, his army was loyal and public opinion was on his side– almost 99%.Except for Jeremiah, who spoke against his policies, questioned his advisors, scolded his soldiers and predicted the destruction ofJerusalem.
What do you do with someone like that? They decided to bury Jeremiah in a deep cistern where no one could hear him and eventually he would die. He was only saved because someone said he shouldn’t die, his voice should be heard.
Well, shortly afterwards, in 586 BC, the Babylonians came into Judea, leveled Jerusalem to the ground and carried away most of its population as slaves to Babylon– as Jeremiah had predicted.
Jeremiah wasn’t fanatical, a fanatic doesn’t question himself. He was a realist, a man who believed in God and saw things as they are. In the book that bears his name, he repeatedly questions himself and worries about what people were saying. He wants to be accepted – like us all. He complains to God about being a prophet but realizes a prophet has to speak, even if he’s out-of-step with the prevailing wisdom of his day.
Listen to Jesus in the gospel today. You can hear the prophet Jeremiah. Jesus brings fire to the earth. Fire can bring light and warmth, but fire can also drive away. Faith can bring people together, but it can also bring separation, even dividing families. It can bring loneliness and unacceptance, especially when it challenges the prevailing wisdom of the day.
How does faith clash with our prevailing wisdom today? For one thing, it can clash with our prevailing concept of happiness. Our prevailing wisdom says we have a right to perfect human happiness, here and now, you, me, everybody.We have a right to perfect health, a perfect body, a perfect mind, a perfect life.
Utopia is right around the corner, in the laboratory waiting to be discovered, in political platforms waiting to implemented. Never mind a heaven above, we want a heaven on earth. A world where there’s no sickness, no sorrow, or death. Heaven on earth.
So we tell the drug companies and our medical establishment – “Give us bodies that will dance every day and minds that will never fail. Take loneliness away from us, help us live on a high. Give us eternal youth, give us life-long sexual pleasure, give us perfect health and a lot of wealth.
So we tell our leaders and politicians to promise us everything under the sun and then get it done right away.
But does happiness, complete happiness come right away? Yes, we pray that God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. But it will come on God’s time, not ours. It will be God’s kingdom, not ours. To trust in ourselves or in human promises and progress brings disappointment and even hopelessness.
We need to listen to prophets like Jeremiah and the warnings of Jesus. We have to recognize the incompleteness of the world we live in and to trust in the fire that never goes out.
That’s the wisdom we hear in an old song, which you don’t hear sung too much any more.
“I’m just a poor, warfarin stranger, traveling through this world of woe. There’s no sickness, no toil or sorrow, in that dear land to which I go.”
Don’t miss the way the Prophet Jeremiah talks to God in our first reading today and the way Peter the Apostle in our gospel gets the message of Jesus all wrong. They’re examples of what faith in God is really like. Without people like them, we might think faith is a ticket to a wonderful life and endless sweet dreams.
Jeremiah is fed up with God:
“You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped;
you were too strong for me, and you triumphed.
All the day I am an object of laughter;
everyone mocks me.”
The lonely prophet lived in hard times when Babylonian armies were sacking Jerusalem and everyone was calling him a deceiver because of a message they didn’t want to hear– God was going to let his holy city be completely destroyed and his people led away in chains.
The message sours the prophet’s mouth and breaks his heart. He feels like a fool. Yet listen to him:
“I say to myself, I will not mention him,
I will speak in his name no more.
But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,
imprisoned in my bones;
I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.”
He’s faithful to God no matter what.
Peter, a believer, gets the message of Jesus wrong. He can’t accept the prediction of the Cross, but wants success instead.
Yet God works with this apostle whose faith is so imperfect and prizes this prophet whose faith is so tried. Since our faith may be like theirs, let’s hope God will work with us. “We believe; help our unbelief.”
This Sunday begins the Season of Advent, leading to Christmas.
Advent is more about the future than about the past. Yes, we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ two thousand years ago, but we celebrate his birth because Jesus Christ changes the way we look ahead. He brings us hope.
The Jewish scriptures we read during Advent tell us the kind of hope Jesus brings. This Sunday’s first reading is from the Prophet Jeremiah. God says to him:
I will raise up for David a just shoot ;
he shall do what is right and just in the land.
In those days Judah shall be safe
and Jerusalem shall dwell secure;
this is what they shall call her:
“The LORD our justice.”
Now, God spoke to Jeremiah as Jerusalem and Judea were being laid waste by a powerful Babylonian army that came from the north to level cities and towns, destroy crops, confiscate valuables and round up able-bodied Jews to bring them to Babylon as slaves. They spared nothing, brutally crushing everything.
So Jeremiah sees nothing but wasteland before him. The land he loved, life as he knew it was gone; everything has been uprooted.
However, God points to a shoot, a tiny sliver of life pushing up amidst the ruins. It’s a sign of life, and through it God will made Judah safe and Jerusalem secure. God will bless his land again.
It’s so easy to be overwhelmed by some great loss, some defeat, some bad situation that seems to take away all we know and love. Our world today, with all its many problems, can look like a wasteland.
The time of advent says, “Signs of hope, small though they be, are there in the midst of it all. God promises life not death in Jesus, whom he has sent. Look for those signs of hope.”