We have reached that time in our liturgical year when we return to the Sundays that are marked by ordinal numbers, the numbers that end in “th,” “st,” and “nd” opposed to the numbers we use to count, 1, 2, 3, etc. It is the ordinal numbers that give this liturgical season its name – Ordinary. Many people think that this season is ordinary because of the extra-ordinary feasts that we celebrate during the Advent, Christmas, Lenten, and Easter Seasons, but nothing could be further from the truth. Each Sunday, whether we wear green or white, is a celebration of the most important liturgical feast – the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus.
Like the other seasons, this season also has a theme or topic upon which we concentrate as we listen to the Scriptures and ponder God’s word. During Ordinary Time, the readings stress the fact that being a disciple of Jesus comes with a cost, if you will. In other words, it repeatedly asks the question, “How does being a follower of Jesus, a member of the Body of Christ, impact my daily life?” Put another way, we can ask, “How does God’s will influence the decisions I make on a day to day basis?”
St. Paul places the problem squarely before us this morning. The world is a dark place that is in the grips of the twins – sin and death. Jesus enters the world and brings another set of twins – grace and life. Using one of his most familiar techniques, Paul speaks in terms of “then,” and “now.” From the time of Adam to the time of Jesus was “then.” From the time of Jesus to the present is “now.” Sin and death reigned over the world because of the sin of Adam. Paul is quick to point out, however, that all had sinned, not just Adam. Sin brings death, its twin. However, true to the Biblical understanding of death, Paul also points out that he does not mean physical death which is simply a part of being mortal. Whenever the Scriptures speak of death, the sacred authors mean separation from God. This is true death. Sin separates us from God; it breaks our relationship with God and its shatters our relationships with others. Examined in this light, we come to understand that the commandments that were given on Sinai are not simply rules and regulations that are imposed upon us from on high. They are the classic ways that we break relationships: dishonor, murder, stealing, lying, adultery, jealousy and envy all disrupt the way we relate to one another. Idolatry and false oaths and failure to worship God all disrupt our relationship with God.
However, Jesus has brought redemption to those of us who place our trust in his teachings. He floods our lives with his strength making it possible for us to live according to his teachings if we choose to do so. We do not have to live separate from God. Jesus makes it possible for us to be forgiven simply by saying we are sorry for our sins and that we will make every effort to avoid them in the future. Jesus gives us access to grace so that we assured of its twin: life. Here again, remember that the sacred writer is not talking about physical life. Life in the Scriptures means living with God.
The prophet Jeremiah helps us to understand our relationship with God through his lamentation, part of which we read today. He has been preaching that the exile that the Israelites are facing is part of God’s will. Because of this prophecy, he is branded a traitor. Even his friends desert him. At one point, he was thrown in a cistern and left for dead. Psalm 69, which we use as our prayer response this morning, recounts that event. Yet Jeremiah, in the depths of that cistern, almost drowning in the mud and mire, knows that God will hear his prayer and rescue him from his enemies, those evil twins – sin and death.
Chapter ten of St. Matthew’s Gospel finds Jesus sending his disciples to preach the Good News that the Kingdom of God is near. We missed the opening lines of his commission because of last Sunday’s feast. As he sends them out, Jesus gives them instructions. They are going to bring the message that he has been preaching to those whom they meet. This message about the nearness of God’s kingdom has been something of a secret in the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament). However, he has come to shed light in the darkness of secrecy. God’s Kingdom is accessible for those who believe. Jesus trusts his disciples with the message, in and of itself, a tremendous vote of confidence in them and their faith. However, he warns them that not all will receive the message graciously. They will suffer insults and worse if they preach the message faithfully, just as Jeremiah suffered for his preaching. However, he tells them not to fear those who can harm them, even those who can kill them, because no one can take life away from them. Again, understand that Jesus is saying that no one can separate them from God. Fear those who can do that, those who can cast them into Gehenna, but trust in God.
So as we keep this 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, we are thrown headlong into the theme that will be with us for the rest of this liturgical year. Being a disciple of Jesus comes with a cost. We will encounter opposition. We will suffer insult and worse if we are faithful to the life of faith. We will be inconvenienced as we pursue the Kingdom of God while the world pursues a kingdom of power and wealth. We will become the doormats of society as people walk over us simply because we believe that our relationship with God must take priority over all other relationships. This is the price we are asked to pay for our faith. Perhaps there will be days when you might think that it is too much to pay, that the responsibilities that come with faith are too heavy a burden. It is at those times that we must call to mind the price Jesus paid for our redemption.
Each time we come to the altar to receive his body and blood, we are reminded of that act of selfless love. Jesus has given his all for us, even his body and blood, to remind us that for those who cling to his way of life, glory and life with God for all eternity await us.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator