The 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
(Jeremiah 38: 4-6, 8-10, Hebrews 12:1-4, Luke 12: 49-53)
“And Jeremiah sank into the mud” (Jer. 38:10). The image is quite graphic. The prophet is slowly swallowed by darkness, darkness from above and darkness below. The Psalmist wrote about such a moment. “Insults have broken my heart and have left me helpless. I looked for someone to take pity on me, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none” (Ps. 69:20). This scene brought to mind some alcoholics I know. “If not for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.” As the prophet sinks into the darkness, he is swallowed up by the muck and slime of the earth. To think that Jeremiah is confined to the underworld by the people he came to save. I found it interesting that he is saved through the intervention of a despised outcast, a black man named Ebed-melech.
Ebed-melech was an Ethiopian who worked in the service of the king. He watched the drama of hate play unfold. Moved with compassion, he approached the king and said, “This is wrong.” As Jeremiah is sinking in the mud, this right-seeing black man raised his voice in the name of justice and right. The fact that he was an outsider and, in the minority, did not stop him from doing the right thing. He knew that like Jeremiah, he was made from the same clay by the Lord of the Universe and that they both belonged to Him. Like the Good Samaritan this single, virtuous Ethiopian knew himself to be his brother’s keeper. “I am only one, but still, I am one. I cannot do everything, but still, I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do” (Edward Everett Hale).
The comedienne Lily Tomlin once said, “I always wondered why somebody doesn’t do something about that. Then I realized I was somebody.” Had Ebed-melech waited for somebody to do something, the prophet Jeremiah would have died. By taking the first step, he opened the door for three more people to help him pull the prophet out of the mud. We who generally focus on the “big picture” need to learn how to look in the eyes of the person in front of us who needs our help. The Talmud offers this wonderful insight. “Whoever saves a single life is considered by scripture to have saved the whole world” (Sanhedrin 37a). The reason for this is: that we are created in God’s image. Think of it. God started the human race by forming one lump of clay in his hands. We can help heal the wounds of violence in the world by doing a single act of kindness to someone in need. We can serve as God’s hands and feet in helping the weakest and in accompanying the lost on their journey home. By showing compassionate love, we can be beacons of hope for those who are wandering in the valley of darkness and despair. No one should be allowed to sink into the muck and mire of life.
The persevering obedience of faith is the challenge set before us. We are called to run along the path of the commandments with our eyes fixed on Christ. If we keep our eyes fixed on Christ, we will see the Light of Life that illumines our path. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews knew what he was talking about when he wrote: “Our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 1`2:29). Our Lord, Jesus Christ came into the world to spark the flame of Divine Love. The Lord of Light chose to immerse himself in our darkness. He is our hope because “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn. 1:5). For the spark to become a flame, it only takes one somebody to speak up (remember Ebed-melech). Disciples of the Light are people who put faith into practice. I am reminded of a statement attributed to Edmund Burke. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.” As children of the Light, we must not be afraid to endure the tensions that confront us as a result of our upward calling. Recall the words of St. Paul. “I press on toward the goal to win the prize of the upward call of God because of what Christ has done for us” (Phil. 3:14). Each of us has been invited into a relationship in which selfishness, uncaring, violence, and irreverence are confronted and overcome. The healing of our world is not going to be the result of our efforts, but rather, it will flow from the victory of our crucified and risen Lord. I am reminded of a song we used to sing at charismatic prayer meetings (I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light, by Kathleen Thomerson)
I want to walk as a child of the light
I want to follow Jesus
God sent the stars to give light to the world
The star of my life is Jesus
Like Ebed-melech we must be willing to stand up against the mob and call evil what is. “There is something wrong with this picture.” Because we are authors of a history yet to be written, we have to do whatever we can to make the picture right. Jesus did not call us to be politically correct. He did not call us to preserve outward peace, a sort of gentlemen’s agreement to keep everyone happy. We shouldn’t be afraid to have difficult conversations. God has poured his Holy Spirit upon us to speak the truth in love and compassion. Recall how Jesus inaugurated his ministry in Nazareth. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release from bondage to prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to proclaim liberty to captives, and to announce the year of the Lord’s favor” (Lk. 4:19-20). Jesus sealed his proclamation in his blood, poured out on the cross. In his great act of love, Jesus reconciled us to one another. By taking our sinful nature to himself, he forgave the wrongs of the past and healed the wounds of hatred and sin. When he extended his arms in that everlasting sign of love, he transformed sorrow into love, death into life, disappointment into hope, abandonment into fellowship, and division into unity. May God who is the sustaining power in the universe use us as writers of a new page of history, weavers of hope, dream weavers of the future, and practitioners of goodwill. I’ll close with a few words of encouragement that Christopher Robin spoke to Winnie the Pooh.
Promise me you’ll always remember:
You’re braver than you believe,
and stronger than you seem,
and smarter than you think.