Jun 21, 2020: 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Introduction

The liturgical year is divided into two kinds of seasons: festal seasons (Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter) and Ordinary Time. While each Sunday celebrates the entire paschal mystery, the Sundays in the festal seasons stress a particular aspect of it. Advent, for example, waits in joyful hope for the coming of Christ, Eastertide glories in the resurrection. The Sundays in Ordinary Time, however, do not have such an added emphasis. According to the aGeneral Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar:

Apart from those seasons having their own distinctive character [Easter, Lent, Christmas, and Advent], thirty-three or thirty-four weeks remain in the yearly cycle that do not celebrate a specific aspect of the mystery of Christ. Rather, especially on the Sundays, they are devoted to the mystery of Christ in all its aspects. This period is known as Ordinary Time (no. 43).

The Sundays in Ordinary Time, then, embody the most ancient tradition, being celebrated very much he way each and every Sunday was celebrated in the earliest decades of the Church (i.e., before the festal seasons developed). Christians have been celebrating the paschal mystery of Christ by proclaiming the Word of God and sharing in the Eucharist Sunday after Sunday after Sunday in an unbroken tradition stretching across the centuries.

1st Reading – Jeremiah 20:10-13

Jeremiah said:
“I hear the whisperings of many:
‘Terror on every side!
Denounce! let us denounce him!’
All those who were my friends
are on the watch for any misstep of mine.
‘Perhaps he will be trapped; then we can prevail,
and take our vengeance on him.’
But the LORD is with me, like a mighty champion:
my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph.
In their failure they will be put to utter shame,
to lasting, unforgettable confusion.
O LORD of hosts, you who test the just,
who probe mind and heart,
let me witness the vengeance you take on them,
for to you I have entrusted my cause.
Sing to the LORD,
praise the LORD,
for he has rescued the life of the poor
from the power of the wicked!”

Jeremiah was a prophet in the southern kingdom; his career began in his youth in 626 BC and extended beyond the ruin of Jerusalem in 586 BC.

More than any other prophet, Jeremiah did not merely preach his inspired message but lived it, too. He incurred the hatred and persecution throughout his life and his faithfulness to his mission from God brought him nothing but heartbreak.

In today’s reading, we hear Jeremiah despairing about his situation. These few verses follow the classical pattern of a lament.

Jeremiah said: I hear the whisperings of many: “Terror on every side! Denounce! let us denounce him!”

Jeremiah is in danger because he has announced the judgment of God on the people. Just before this passage, Jeremiah prophesied that because the people had not been faithful to God, they would be defeated: “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: I will surely bring upon this city all the evil with which I threatened it, because they have stiffened their necks and have not obeyed my words” (Jeremiah 19:15).

For saying this, Jeremiah was scourged and put in the stocks.

All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine.

In rejecting the prophet, the people are rejecting the God of the prophet. Even his friends seem to have turned against him.

“Perhaps he will be trapped; then we can prevail, and take our vengeance on him.”

He is alone, bereft of any support, and attacked on every side.

But the LORD is with me, like a mighty champion: 

Despite his distress, Jeremiah is confident. God is on his side as a mighty and awe-inspiring champion (gibbôr), a warrior who will fight for his cause.

my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph.

Jeremiah’s assailants have been hoping to prevail (yākōl) over the prophet, but they will not triumph (yākōl). They have been waiting for Jeremiah to misstep, but God will cause them to stumble.

This confidence has its foundation in Yahweh’s promise (Jeremiah 1:8, 19), which the prophet often recalled. In the midst of strong contradictions, he keeps his faith in Yahweh’s loyalty.

As we will see in today’s gospel reading, this is exactly what Jesus instructs his disciples to do: put their trust in God’s power and provident care.

In their failure they will be put to utter shame, to lasting, unforgettable confusion.

Jeremiah’s enemies will be put to shame and confusion, a fate that in an honor-shame society is sometimes worse than death.

O LORD of hosts, you who test the just, who probe mind and heart, let me witness the vengeance you take on them, for to you I have entrusted my cause.

“LORD of hosts” evokes military imagery, since hosts (tsâbâ’) are army divisions. It is a title that calls to mind the cosmic war that God waged against evil, the battle in which God was victorious (see Psalm 24:9-11). The title was also used of God during wars against other nations, when God was believed to be the commander of the army of Israel (2 Samuel 5:10). In these battles, too, God was triumphant.

With such a God on his side, Jeremiah is confident of deliverance and protection. His trust is not misplaced.

Some contemporary readers might be troubled by the prophet’s prayer for vengeance. This must be understood within the context of the society of the prophet. It is not a prayer of bloodthirsty revenge but a plea for justice, for correcting inequity. Israel believed the justice of God was the source of authentic vengeance (“Vengeance is mine,” Deuteronomy 32:35). What is noteworthy is that Jeremiah turns to God for justice; he does not attempt to avenge the wrong himself.

Sing to the LORD, praise the LORD, for he has rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked!

The passage ends with a short hymn of praise. The prophet is confident of deliverance, confident that God has already begun the process of righting the wrong, correcting the inequity. Since the needy were no match for the wicked ones, God stepped in. This is reason for song.

2nd Reading – Romans 5:12-15

Brothers and sisters:
Through one man sin entered the world,
and through sin, death,
and thus death came to all men, inasmuch as all sinned—
for up to the time of the law, sin was in the world,
though sin is not accounted when there is no law.
But death reigned from Adam to Moses,
even over those who did not sin
after the pattern of the trespass of Adam,
who is the type of the one who was to come.

But the gift is not like the transgression.
For if by the transgression of the one the many died,
how much more did the grace of God
and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ
overflow for the many.

During Ordinary Time, the first reading and the gospel correspond with and interpret one another, while the second reading is a multi-week study of an apostolic writing.

This week we begin a semi-continous reading of Paul’s letter to the Romans, which will take us through the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

The focus of today’s passage from Romans is the incomparable nature of God’s salvific grace. In order to illustrate the force and scope of this grace, Paul uses a diatribe, a form of argument used by the Greek Stoics.

Brothers and sisters: Through one man sin entered the world,

A reference to Adam, the first man.

and through sin, death, and thus death came to all, 

Though Paul doesn’t use the term “original sin,” he affirms what is basic to that dogma, using the common experience of all people to explain the pervasive presence of sin and death in the world. Humankind’s guilt before God began with Adam, and it infected the entire human race. Therefore, the entire human race is in need of salvation.

“As infants cannot help being descended from Adam, so they cannot help being touched by the same sin, unless they are set free from its guilt by the baptism of Christ.” [Saint Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 414) Letter to the Sicilian Layman Hilary 157]

inasmuch as all sinned for up to the time of the law, sin was in the world, though sin is not accounted when there is no law.

Adam may have been the first to sin, but subsequently all have sinned. In one sense, there is no transgression if there is no Law to transgress. However, according to Paul the power of sin and death are independent of the Law. He maintains that indeed there was sin in the world before Moses received the Law. See Romans 4:14-15.

But death reigned from Adam to Moses,

Saint Paul now begins to discuss three ages:

  1. Adam to Moses: the natural period which represented by the fallen, unhappy family;
  2. Moses to Christ: the legal period in which one nation is the example;
  3. From Christ onward: the period of international blessing where all nations are blessed and freed from the Law through the grace of Christ.

even over those who did not sin after the pattern of the trespass of Adam, who is the type of the one who was to come.

Typology plays an important role in the writings of Saint Paul. Here, he talks about how Christ, the “last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45), was prefigured by Adam.

“Although through one man’s sin death has passed to all men, Him whom we do not refuse to acknowledge as the father of the human race we cannot refuse to acknowledge as also the author of death. … In Adam I fell, in Adam I was cast out of paradise, in Adam I died. How shall God call me back, except He find me in Adam? For just as in Adam I am guilty of sin and owe a debt to death, so in Christ I am justified.” [Saint Ambrose of Milan (A.D. 378), On The Death Of His Brother Satyrus 2,6]

But the gift is not like the transgression.

In the style of diatribe, Paul sets up a comparison between the universal effects of sin and death and the all-encompassing power of forgiveness and life. He does this by contrasting the actions of Adam and Christ.

For if by that one person’s transgression the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one person Jesus Christ overflow for the many.

Paul uses an a fortiori argument to make his point about the excellence of Christ: if this is the way it was with sin, how much more it is with grace. Just as death for all entered the world through the sin of one (Adam), so grace was won for all through the gift of one (Christ).

Note the universality of Paul’s teaching: God’s grace overflows “for the many.” Paul’s letter shows how, in light of Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection, God’s people began to realize that God loves and desires to save all people, not just a chosen few.

Gospel – Matthew 10:26-33

Jesus said to the Twelve:
“Fear no one.
Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed,
nor secret that will not be known.
What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light;
what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.
And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul;
rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy
both soul and body in Gehenna.
Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin?
Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge.
Even all the hairs of your head are counted.
So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
Everyone who acknowledges me before others
I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.
But whoever denies me before others,
I will deny before my heavenly Father.”

We rejoin Jesus this week during the first year of his public ministry. He has just commissioned the Twelve and is instructing them as they are sent out.

Just before this passage, Jesus told his disciples that they will suffer persecution: “Brother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:21-22).

Today’s reading is part of Jesus’ “Mission Discourse.” In it, Jesus is teaching the disciples how to act when they are facing persecution.

Jesus said to the Twelve: “Fear no one.

The passage opens with an exhortation: Fear no one.

Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known.

The disciples should not fear because they should be confident that good will prevail and the truth will win out.

What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.

Jesus insists it is now time for the gospel to be proclaimed openly and boldly. The shift that must take place is both clear and dramatic.

And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.

The apostles should fear neither those who resist their proclamation of the gospel nor those who have the power to put them to death. What they should fear is total destruction in Gehenna and rejection of God. Note that Jesus doesn’t minimize the danger, but reframes it.

Gehenna is the term Jesus uses to refer to the place of eternal destruction. It is also the valley that runs along the southern edge of Jerusalem at the time of Christ. The Hebrew word ge-hinnom means “valley of the son of Hinnom.” The name is probably that of the original Jebusite owner of the property. It became a cultic shrine where human sacrifice was offered (2 Kings 23:10; 2 Chronicles 28:3; 33:6; Jeremiah 7:31; 19:2ff; 32:35). Because of this cult, Jeremiah cursed the place and predicted that it would be a place of death and corruption.

This gives Jesus’ instruction an eschatological theme. He contrasts physical death, which only afflicts the body (sōma), with ultimate death in Gehenna, which destroys body and soul (psychē).

Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge.

Jesus then shifts to explaining that suffering is not evidence of God’s disinterest. Using a Jewish method of argument known as “from the light to the heavy,” he offers two examples to demonstrate this point.

Sparrows were the cheapest life in the market. If God cares for the insignificant sparrows, how much more is God concerned for the apostles?

Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

If God can count the number of hairs on their heads, how much more knowledgeable is God about their needs? Jesus uses these examples to encourage the apostles to trust in God despite the hardships they might have to endure. He again exhorts them not to fear, for they are valuable in the sight of God.

Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.

The eschatological theme returns in this last verse. One’s attitude toward Jesus determines one’s ultimate fate. Those who are willing to make a solemn declaration of faith in Jesus before others will be acknowledged by Jesus before God. Those who deny knowing or having any dealings with him will be similarly denied before God.

In all of this, Jesus is assuring those who suffer in his name that it is better to endure misfortune, even death, than to have to endure rejection by God in the world to come.

Connections and Themes

The hardships in discipleship. We live in a world where money is usually the standard of success. It is a world of competition where there is only one winner and everyone else is a failure. It is a world that values possessions more than commitment, shrewdness more than integrity. It is a world where some races and cultures and the natural environment itself are secondary to the desires of those in power. This is a world that desperately needs to hear the call to conversion, but it is a world that is either deaf to it, or hearing it, may persecute the one who delivers the message. This is a world subject to the death that entered through the sin of Adam.

Those who respond positively to the call of God may well have to face hostility in this world, because their values and their commitment to righteousness threaten its moorings. They may encounter this hostility in friends and neighbors. They may even have to face it from family members. What may be particularly difficult is the feeling of having been rejected by the very ones to whom one commits oneself in service. Disciples may experience “terror on every side.” To commit oneself to the reign of God is to challenge the reign of the world, and this can make one very unpopular.

Fear no one.  In the midst of this suffering we can find strength in the promises of God, and we believe God is faithful to these promises. We have not been created and then thrown into the world to fend for ourselves. God cares for us more than for the sparrows. God knows everything there is to know about us: our fears and aversions, our thoughts and dreams Why is it so hard for us to believe we are cared for by God? Have we not learned that God’s care can be operative side-by-side with hardship? Or do we expect God will swoop into our lives and rescue us from whatever causes our pain? Why do we think God should preserve us from pain rather than strengthen us in it? Is the latter not perhaps the greater show of divine power? We have God’s promise, but do we really believe God will be faithful to that promise? Or are we not satisfied with that promise and want a different one?

The gracious gift of God. Only half of this picture is bleak. The other half is radiant with hope. Paul assures us that the gracious gift God offers us is far greater than the transgression brought on by sin. This gracious gift is Jesus Christ himself. The gift exceeds anything for which we might have hoped. He is the comfort that will carry us through our disappointments. He is the strength that will enable us to endure the misunderstanding and hardship that come with discipleship. We are called to acknowledge him before the world, and we are promised that if we do he will acknowledge us before God. There is light even in the midst of darkness. There is hope even in the midst of suffering.

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