Father Donald Senior, CP

June 21: Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

A Jeremiah mood

Jer 20:10-13; Ps 69:8-10, 14, 17, 33-35; Rom 5:12-15; Mt 10:26-33

The Bible embraces a vast range of time, cultures and moods, stretching from the very origins of the universe, through the history of Israel, into the story of Jesus and the unfolding expanse of the early church. It ends with the promise of future triumph in the Book of Revelation. There are moments of ecstasy and lavish praise of God. There are accounts of victories and failures as history unfolds.

The mood of this Sunday’s Scripture readings is set by the opening passage from the prophet Jeremiah: “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.”

Jeremiah is not known as a cheerful prophet. In English, we refer to a particularly pessimistic view of life as a “Jeremiad,” which echoes the rueful complaints of Jeremiah about his persecutors and betrayers. This kind of lament carries over into the response Psalm 69: “For your sake I bear insult, and shame covers my face. I have become an outcast to my brethren, a stranger to my children.”

Perhaps this mournful mood fits what a lot of people are feeling now. There is the suffering and anxiety caused by the threat of the coronavirus — not just the threat to health by the highly contagious virus, but the consequences of having to protect ourselves from it. The social distancing, the masks, the confinement to our homes are all burdensome.

On top of that, the chaos triggered by an act of deadly racism with the murder of George Floyd, which opened a deep national wound and the struggle to heal it. No wonder a lot of people are feeling sadness, matching the mood of the prophet and the psalmist. 

Such laments in our Scriptures reassure us that it is OK to recognize our sadness and to express it. It is not an affront to God or our Christian faith to call out in anguish. Jesus, too, lamented the intransigence of his opponents and cried out to God in Gethsemane, and felt stark loneliness as he faced death: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me!”

While such passages in Jeremiah, the psalms and in many other places in the Bible express our sadness and fear, the Bible does not leave it there. Such moments of anguish are usually embedded in honest prayer. 

Out of the depths of his anger, Jeremiah can still acclaim, as he does at the end of the first reading: “Sing to the Lord, praise the Lord, for he has rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked.” The Psalm refrain moves from an expression of anger and resentment to an earnest prayer: “Lord, in your great love, answer me … I pray to you, O Lord, for the time of your favor, O God! In your great kindness answer me with your constant help … in your great mercy turn toward me.”

The other readings for this Sunday also combine the Bible’s realism about our plight and an underlying confidence in God’s abiding love and protection. The second reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans reflects Paul’s sweeping view of human history that, through the rebellion of Adam, sin and death enter the world and become part of our human legacy. This is a reality all too visible to us at this moment in our history. 

But that is not the end of the story. God’s love issues in the person of Jesus, whom Paul calls God’s “gracious gift.” Jesus is a pledge of hope that is more powerful than the legacy of sin and death.

That, too, is the spirit of the passage from Matthew’s Gospel for this Sunday. Jesus’ words are taken from the “mission discourse.” As Jesus sends his disciples out to teach and heal as he did, he tells them not to be afraid despite the threats they may encounter. His vivid words of assurance cannot be forgotten: “Even all the hairs of your head are counted” by the Father. Not a single sparrow falls to the ground without God’s knowledge: “So do not be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows.”



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