First Reading: Jer. 38: 4-6, 8-10.
The Prophet Jeremiah is often pointed out to us readers as a giant among the prophets of Israel. He never ceased to preach the word given him by the Lord God and suffered deeply because of the faithlessness of people of Israel to their Covenant with God. Despite Jeremiah’s preaching against the waywardness of their living and of God’s displeasure, they virtually ignored his admonitions. Jeremiah prophesied the fall of Jerusalem and while this did not faze the Israelites, it did create headaches for the King and his officials. The king Zedekiah, appointed by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon as the King of Judah, took the advice of his officials to get rid of Jeremiah, as his speeches were causing political unrest and creating a hostile atmosphere. Zedekiah was pressurised by his insistent officials. He gave in, finally: ‘here you take him, he is in your hands, the king is powerless against you’ (v5) The Officials lowered him into a muddy well, a place where he would die eventually from thirst and hunger and suffer greatly. However, an Ethiopian eunuch (slave) in the house of the King approached Zedekiah and told him what they had actually done to Jeremiah and persuaded him to release him – a good prophet. Ebed-melech the Ethiopian followed the King’s instruction and with three others to help, released Jeremiah from the muddy well, and he remained within the King’s jurisdiction.
Jeremiah is often called the ‘suffering prophet’ or the ‘suffering servant’, foreshadowing Jesus the great ‘suffering servant’ of God (Matt.16:13-14). The story unfolds. The people continued to ignore the Lord’s warnings and we know the terrible destruction of Jerusalem which followed. All was emptiness and silence as we recall in the psalm: ‘By the waters of Babylon there we sat and wept, remembering Sion.’
Likewise, the Ethiopian Ebed-melech reminds us in some sense of the ‘Good Samaritan’. In speaking up against the wilfulness of the king’s officials and their cruelty to the prophet Jeremiah, he is a good man. The king listened and commanded that he be pulled up of the well before he died. We know that Zedekiah had met Jeremiah previously and so he was open to the message that the Prophet had given.
Second Reading Hebrews 12:1-4
The metaphor that Paul uses in this reading is that of running a race – which usually requires effort and staying the course. It is an endurance race, not a 50 yards sprint. The key element of race is to stay focused on the target, crossing over the ‘line’. Our target is Jesus Christ and He is our Focus – ‘the pace setter’, the one who has endured the horrors of the Cross. We are exhorted not to treat lightly the discipline of the race – the endurance, the perseverance in hostility, the obstacles that have to be overcome in order that we reach that finishing line. Together as a community of followers of Jesus, as believers, we run together, in whatever shape we find ourselves – fragile, fragmented, old or weary. Christians are suffering all over our world today as a result of shameful injustices and sin. Many are even shedding their blood because they are followers of Jesus. We are a broken humanity with but a blurred vision of the target. Yet we run together in hope.
Gospel: Luke 12:49-53.
The image of fire is quite graphic. It is a frightening vision. It shocks initially as its message is so passionate. The Disciples must have been shocked at what Jesus said. But fire, in the Bible has always been a metaphor for the Presence of God. We remember the fire in the burning bush and above all the tongues fire that settled on the Apostles on Pentecost Sunday. Here, Jesus, among His disciples, seems stressed out. He is wishing for the completion of his work as ‘Suffering Servant’ and doing the Father’s will. His going will bring division. There will be divisions among themselves, controversies, misinterpretations, rejections, persecutions. Our generation of believers still grapples with all of these daily. As followers of Jesus we not only need to listen to the Word of God, but to actually hear it. Jeramiah, the prophet, spoke the word of God clearly to the Israelites but they did not hear it. Jeremiah’s word never changed. Is there a prophetic word here for us today?
Dominique Horgan. OP