Father David's Reflection for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ministry is a Two-edged Sword
You love God, but how much? For you, is God the “best,” the “first,” or the All? Ask the same question about your trust. Do you trust in God somewhat, seriously, or absolutely? What in your lifestyle “puts your money where your mouth is”?
We don’t believe our own words unless we see them expressed in our actions.
The Entrance Antiphon invites us to both trust and love. We call God “our Protector.” And we say we appreciate him more than anything on earth: “If we can be with you even one day, it is better than a thousand without you.”
In the Opening Prayer we beg to “love you in all things and above all things.” This makes God All. We look for God in all things, and what we find to love in all things is God: God present and acting in them, God in them translating his goodness into created form. But he is above and beyond them all. And the “joy he has prepared for us” when we see and possess him as he is we recognize as “beyond all our imagining.”
In the Prayer Over the Gifts we translate this recognition into action: “By offering what you have given us” — that includes all we are and own, because what do we have that God has not given? — “may we receive the gift of yourself.” May we give all to enter into possession of the All.
In the Prayer After Communion we get very practical: “By becoming more like him on earth” — that is a practical goal to inspire a concrete plan for a way of life — “may we come to share in his glory in heaven.” The vision, the mystical vision, of God in all his grandeur is what goads us and guides us. And the “source and summit” of it all is Eucharist. “God of mercy, by this sacrament you make us one with Christ.” In the Mass we have a beginning that already embraces the end.
“If it comes up mud…”:
Jeremiah 38: 4-10 calls to mind Damon Runyon’s short story, “If It Comes Up Mud.” It is about betting on a pitiful racehorse who couldn’t beat an arthritic cow around the track unless, on the day of the race, “it comes up mud.” On a muddy track the horse comes to life and soars.
Jeremiah reached the height of his witness to God when he was cast into the depths of a well. “There was no water in the well,” the reading tells us, “only mud. And into the mud Jeremiah sank.” But out of the mud his spirit soared. In the depths of his despair he reached the greatest height of faith, of hope and of love. Like Abraham, “Hoping against hope, he believed….” (Romans 4:18). It is only when we act out of belief in the impossible that we know we truly believe that “for God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26; and see Mark 14:36). When Jeremiah’s life “hit bottom” in the mud of the well, he was able pray with full awareness of what he was saying, “Lord, come to my aid” (Psalm 40, Responsorial).
Unity and Division:
In Luke 12: 49-53 Jesus tells us the mixed feelings he had about his ministry, precisely because it was a summons to unmixed love.
On the one hand, he was exalted by the greatness of it: “I have come to bring fire to the earth!” He gloried in calling human beings to the grandeur of capacity to love as God loves — with total, unrestrained, unlimited self-bestowal. What Paul will declare later as his prayer, Jesus pronounces here as his desire:
I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:18-19).
Jesus couldn’t wait to set us all on fire. One of the first things Luke reports was John the Baptizer’s promise about him: “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming…. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16).
Jesus knew, however, that before we could be baptized into his fire, he had to be baptized into our failure. He had to be immersed in the sin of the world, taking us, with all of our sins, into his own body on the cross: “For our sake God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2Corinthians 5:21). Jesus looked forward to this with both desire and dread: “I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and how great is my distress till it is over!”
Jesus also knew that the Baptism he was giving us would call us to death as well as to life. It would be the same Baptism as his: to become immersed in his Life we would first have to be immersed in his death. Baptism is a sharing in Christ’s own dying and rising:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 5:3-4).
This gave Jesus mixed feelings about his ministry. The good news was that he was calling us to unlimited love and giving us life “to the full.” The bad news was that he had to die in order to do this, and we would have to die with him.
In Luke’s Gospel the earliest proclamations of Christ’s coming and birth promised peace:
The dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (Luke 1:68-79; 2:14).
When Jesus sent his disciples out on mission, he sent them as bearers of peace: “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’” (Luke 10:5).
But now, in today’s Gospel he says, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” And the source of the division is precisely the undividedness of heart to which he calls us. Those who accept Christ must accept him with undivided loyalty. Even family bonds do not take priority over our total gift and surrender to him. This will split up families:
From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three… father against son… mother against daughter… daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.
Many people who claim to love God themselves will not accept it if our love for God is total. The sad news is that an undivided heart can be a source of division that alienates us from others.
“For the sake of the joy…”
Hebrews 12; 1-4 picks up the note, urging us to “lay aside” everything that keeps us from responding without reserves to Jesus’ call and to “persevere in running the race that lies ahead.”
The way to do this is to “keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.” For those ministering and for those ministered to, our central focus and source of inspiration must be Jesus. “For the sake of the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross.” We shouldn’t even try to “endure the opposition of sinners” unless we do it in union with Jesus — letting him do it himself: with us, in us and through us.
We should remember we are not alone in our efforts to minister, to serve others as Jesus within us wants to serve them. We are “surrounded by a cloud of witnesses” who pray for us. Who count on us and urge us on. And the victory is assured. We can lift up our eyes in faith and see that Jesus “has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hence we “do not grow despondent or abandon the struggle.”
In him we find our strength. When we pray, “Lord, come to my aid!” it is with assurance that he can and will.
The key to it all is focus. We look to one God, one alone. He is the absolute All of existence. The absolute, one and only Good. The One we love with all our hearts, in whom we place all our trust.
For you alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord, you alone are Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father. Amen.
What else is there to love and live for but God? What can I do that is better than helping people to know and love him?
Identify one fear in your life and counter it with trust.