Reflections on the Readings for Sunday 18 August 2013
Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10; Psalm 40:2-4, 18; Hebrews 12:1-4; Luke 12:49-53
Jesus’ message of love, grace and forgiveness got him killed. How is that possible? Why didn’t the world welcome him with open arms? He warned his disciples that following him would lead to family upheaval, to dissent and division. But the Jesus we preach now tends to be the champion of ‘family values.’ What was he talking about?
In places where Christianity is widely accepted, it is all too easy to domesticate the message of Jesus so that it supports the status quo. Jesus’ message was radical, polarising. Kingdom values turn the world on its head. Family is meant to be a safe and nurturing place, but it can often be the opposite. It is the first place of socialisation, and families can serve oppressive and unjust social structures, perpetuate prejudice, and stunt human potential. The domestic sphere is all too often the site of violence and more subtle abuse against children, women and the elderly. People who are called to something new, something radically different, often face the harshest criticism and opposition from those nearest and dearest to them. Family ties truly cut both ways.
As in the family, so in the wider society: Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, is a salutary reminder of what can happen to those who faithfully speak God’s message to those in power. People do not want to hear anything that challenges their power or threatens their sense of security, however delusional. It wasn’t just the physical indignities and dangers that upset Jeremiah. Perhaps worst of all for him were the accusations of disloyalty, of wanting to cause harm to his own people. He was preaching a deeply unpopular message, but it was the only way to avoid catastrophe. Not only was he being maligned, he also had to watch the leadership marching the people he loved headlong into destruction.
Psalm 40 is a prayer of thanks after an experience like Jeremiah’s. We may be sinking in mud, beset by opposition, rejected, ostracised. But the crux of Christian faith is Easter – the promise that death is followed by resurrection, big and small. We are a people of hope surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses – the people of faith who have gone before us, and those who walk beside us. Even if we lose our family and our community, we gain a new family and new community in Christ. That’s why we can keep to the right path whatever the cost. The living God has the last word.