The Eucharistic liturgy towards which and from which we journey celebrates God’s reverencing both our bodies and our souls. Jesus comes body and soul to embrace us again as He did by His Incarnation. We pray to receive once more the words of blessing, “The Body of Christ.”
In the First Reading of this liturgy we have a “good-guy/Bad-Guy” arrangement. To understand more clearly our reading, it is helpful to read the disturbing prophesy Jeremiah is announcing in the previous chapter. In brief the prophet, who feels God seduced him, is told he must go out of town with some elders and announce the terrible tidings about their future. He tells them all exactly why God is going to send them all into captivity, because they have been profaning the temple with false-god worship. Then Jeremiah goes right into the courtyard of the temple and repeats the whole condemnation.
What we hear today are verses which follow Jeremiah’s being imprisoned and beaten for his speaking the word of God. So to compound his troubles Jeremiah tells the temple priest and police guard they, too, are going to not only be banished into captivity in a foreign land, but die there and be buried there. This is a triple curse. Jeremiah believes what the Lord has given him to say and what we hear is a lament and a boast of faith.
First we hear how all are waiting to catch him in his non-observing certain practice. They would like to catch him saying one thing and yet doing something else. “Is he as good as he says he is and we ought to be?”
Then Jeremiah’s spirit revives as he sings a song of trust, joy and a little hint of revengefulness. He makes a boast of great trust in the god Who has seduced him and this gives him strength to stay faithful to his calling. However, if one were to read the verses beyond those of our First Reading, one might hear him again curse the day his mother gave him birth. Our spirits do not stay as high as they can reach at times. Jeremiah, for all his curses and woes, kept calling Israel to be faithful even when he didn’t feel too faithful himself.
Like Jeremiah, Jesus in today’s Gospel is telling it like it has to be told. In the very presence of the religious elders who are in an unholy alliance with the dominating Roman imperial powers, Jesus is telling His disciples not to be afraid of any power, Roman or religious, who can harm the body. As for those who can harm the soul, be very afraid of that power.
Jesus is asking His disciples to be of good courage and speak the louder when the forces demand silence. Jesus is preparing His disciples and future church for the mission of moving from the private to the public, from the “whisper” to the “proclaim,” from the “dark” to the “light.” The power of Rome eventually would suppress Jesus, Peter, and Paul, but His Word would have to be acknowledged before all and Jesus promises to acknowledge the proclaiming prophets at the final judgment. I personally never won an argument about God, religion, spirituality and the like, mainly, because very early in my life I found it a bad investment of time and words. Arguing is different from witnessing. Proclaiming is different from denouncing. On our campus here at this Jesuit Catholic University we have students of various faiths telling each other that they are not going to heaven, because they are not of this group or that. There is much of witnessing which is more like arguing. My dear father who was a lawyer, told me something very important to this area. He said that he noticed that the louder the opposing lawyer spoke or shouted, the weaker, my father knew, was the case that lawyer was defending. (This loud/soft system did not extend to the discipline-system at home, but that’s another Reflection.)
Arguing about who is going to heaven and who goes to hell is not of any import. We hear in the whispering and dark of our personal relationship with Jesus what is to be lived despite our fears of rejection. The important thing here is what powers are hurting our souls, killing our spirits. What imperial powers are dominating our hearts, our ways of choosing and acting. How we live should actually insult the pretending-powers of our times. A certain student told me he would like to borrow one of my sweaters, because they are so out of fashion that he would enjoy being different, “as you are father.” What is in fashion is anything I have in my closet or drawers. This is simple. What is more difficult is buying into the simplicity and stability of Jesus and letting how we choose and how we speak and how we define ourselves be our strongest religious argument. It just might get us in trouble, but it will also get us into heaven.
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