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Deliver Us from Evil
July 28, 2020
God of the Here and Now
July 29, 2020

Homily for 28 July 2020, Tuesday 17th Week in Ordinary Time, Mat 13:36-43

Today’s first reading is for me one of the saddest passages in the prophetic writings. The prophet Jeremiah has warned the people about the great disaster that is about to befall his country. He has preached angry oracles of judgment; but they would not listen to him. In Chapter 14, he suddenly switches to a lamentation, describing in detail the great tragedy that is about to happen.
He says, “Let my eyes stream with tears day and night, without rest, over the great destruction which overwhelms the virgin daughter of my people, over her incurable wound.” He would visualize for them how they would fall into the hands of the Babylonian empire, how they would lose their freedom and end up as a province of Babylon, and the citizens of Judah as slaves in a foreign land.
I do not think anyone in his right mind would want to become a prophet if God gave him the gift of visualizing what is about to happen. Jeremiah talks about seeing dead bodies violently slaughtered, littering the streets. He talks about the survivors, dying of hunger. He cries out to God and laments, “Why have you struck us a blow that cannot be healed?” He could not bear the thought that his people had been deluded into believing that a time of peace and prosperity, a time of healing and well-being was about to come. Alas, what was really about to happen was a time of terror and disaster instead!
Too bad, as recommended by the lectionary, we started reading only from verse 17. If we had started it from verse 13, we would have known what the prophet was really weeping about. The people couldn’t say they were not told nor warned about this. They were. But they chose to listen to false prophets.
Listen to how he the false prophets are described: “They speak lies using my name (says God). I did not send them, I had nothing to do with them. I did not ask them to speak for me. But they dared to prophesy anyway. What came out of their mouths? Lying visions, foolish predictions, deceptions from their own imaginations!”
These false prophets were blinded by money and power; they said only what pleased the king. They said only positive things about the king’s policies. They even accused the true messengers of being false prophets. They attacked them for being pessimistic, critical, negative. They made people complacent, assuring them that there was nothing to be worried about, that God had everything under control.
Jeremiah was even arrested by the ruling authorities and thrown into a cistern, and later made to languish in jail. That is why sometimes you get the impression that he is so disheartened he wants to quit his job. But in this particular lament in Chapter 14, he is so affected by the coming disaster that he switches to being a priest. (He actually belonged to a priestly family. ) He confesses the sins of his people hoping perhaps that God would withdraw the punishment that is about to befall them. He says, “We recognize O lord, the guilt of our fathers, that we have sinned against you. .. Remember your covenant with us, do not break off from us.” Prophets do not normally speak like this.
Jeremiah is desperately making an act of atonement for the his people, despite all the violence and persecution he had suffered in their hands for just doing his job as a prophet.
This bitter lamentation reminds me of Jesus in Luke chapter 13, also prophesying the fall of Jerusalem under the Roman empire around six centuries later. How history would repeat itself. Like Jeremiah, we are told that Jesus also wept over Jerusalem. Here is what he said, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you…” He also speaks in the tone of a lamentation and says, “How many times I yearned to gather your children as a mother hen gathers he brood under her wings, but you were unwilling…” And then the oracle of doom follows, “Behold, your house will be abandoned.”
God can only offer salvation; but he will never force it on us. Because he gave us free will, he respects our freedom to choose good against evil. But how can we choose good if we cannot even distinguish it from evil? Sometimes, what seems too obvious to some people might not be obvious at all to other people. The Gospel warns us that seeds of both good and bad are growing together in the same field. We will be our own judge if we never learn to hate evil and love good, if we never develop the spiritual intelligence, or wisdom of heart that it takes to be able to discern between right and wrong, if we do not do what our faith asks of us: which is to reject Satan and find in Jesus Christ the way, the truth, and the life.


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