Sunday, Aug. 18, is the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C, Cycle 1).
Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10; Psalm 40:2-4, 18; Hebrews 12:1-4; Luke 12:49-53
Here in the lazy days of summer, the Church wants these readings to shake things up. If you look at today’s readings as an antidote to the summer blahs, some practical advice emerges.
1. Have a mission for the whole world ...
"I have come to set the earth on fire," says Jesus in the Gospel, "and how I wish it were already blazing!" Jesus didn’t come to keep himself pure; he didn’t come to calm everyone down; he didn’t come just to die either. He came to set the earth on fire, to start a revolution of love and truth.
We, too, should see our Christianity not as a defense against sin or a remedy for temptation or even just a vehicle of silent suffering: We should see it as a fire of love and truth that needs to be spread.
2. … but have a mission for your family, too.
Jesus says he did not come to bring peace, but division. "A father will be divided against his son and a son against his father," he said, "a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law."
Notice what he didn’t say. He didn’t call his followers to the false peace of separation and the false charity of indifference. He wants a son and father to have to confront each other’s ideas; he wants in-laws to have to reckon with in-laws.
Our first mission fields are our families; they are with whom our commitment to our faith is first put to the test.
3. Have patient trust in God when the culture ostracizes you …
In the first reading, officials objected that "Jeremiah ought to be put to death" because "he is demoralizing the soldiers who are left in this city." Jeremiah disagreed with the moral errors of his time. By sharing the truth, he made himself offensive to his own culture; so, for the good of the people, he was rejected and placed in a cistern to die. There he sat until, in mysterious circumstances, he was saved in the nick of time.
The same thing happens in our time. When we take seriously the right to life, the nature of marriage and other culturally unpopular Church teachings, society will reject us. We won’t be eliminated, but we will be placed in the cistern of public scorn and left to sit there, feeling helpless and ineffectual. Until God ratifies the truth, as he did for Jeremiah — and certainly will do in our culture, too.
4. … but never give up striving.
The second reading, though, reminds us that our role is not simply long-suffering. We are meant to "persevere in running the race that lies before us, while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus," says St. Paul. "In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood."
So as the heat of the summer starts to wind down and the busy year ahead looms in the near distance, now is a perfect time to renew our Christian vocation. It is a vocation to fight in the world, build our families at home, accept persecution with trust and, summer blahs or not, strain to run the race to the end.
Tom and April Hoopes write
from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is
writer in residence at