Lectionary, June 25, 2023
I.Theme – Living in a new way
"Calling of the Disciples" – Domenico Ghirlandaio (1481)
Today’s readings help us to recognize that God’s strength will always help us as we witness to our faith. In the face of terror, the prophet Jeremiah remembers God’s promises. Paul reminds the Roman community that God’s great gift of salvation overflows freely. In the gospel, Jesus reassures his disciples of their great worth to God.
Old Testament – Jeremiah 20:7-13
Jeremiah began his prophetic ministry to Judah about 627 BC and ended it about 580 BC. His career thus spanned the period of political turmoil that culminated in Judah’s final defeat by the Babylonians, the destruction of Jerusalem and the burning of the temple, and the exile of the major part of the population.
Jeremiah was not afraid to speak when he had to and go where God called him to go. And when the catastrophe finally overwhelmed his people, he was the one who bitterly lamented Israel’s terrible fate. And when they were carried off to Babylon, his counsel of submission to Babylon and his message of “life as usual” for the exiles of the early deportations branded him as a traitor in the eyes of many. Actually, of course, his advice not to rebel against Babylon marked him as a true patriot, a man who loved his own people too much to sit back and watch them destroy themselves. By warning them to submit and not rebel, Jeremiah was revealing God’s will to them.
In a series of six laments or “confessions” (11:18-20, 12:1-4, 15:10-21, 17:14-18, 18:18-23, 20:7-18), Jeremiah reveals more of his personal struggle than any other Old Testament prophet. He is caught in the tension between his vocation as a speaker of God’s word and his natural reaction to the hatred he aroused.
Today’s reading is a portion of the last of these laments. Jeremiah has been beaten and put in stocks for announcing the Lord’s judgment (19:14–20:2). He then accuses the Lord of having deceived him. Though he preaches God’s word of judgment, destruction has not come and Jeremiah is feeling like a fool. But he cannot keep silent. Jeremiah’s own proclamation, “terror is on all around,” (6:25, 20:3) has been turned against him as a mockery (20:10). Yet he recalls the promise of the Lord’s presence (1:8, 19, 15:20) and recommits himself to God’s purposes.
Jesus, like Jeremiah, is pondering on the role of the prophet – the prophets that he hopes his disciples will be. Perhaps Jesus was thinking of persecutions that Jeremiah had to endure – people plotting against him, beaten, put down into a cistern and left to starve. Those like the Cushite that rescued Jeremiah would be closely associate with Jesus. Whoever shows them hospitality shows respect to Jesus, and will be blessed. Insiders and outsiders are identified by how they treated certain kinds of people, the hungry, the sick, the helpless, the prisoner for the faith. Whatever we do for them we do for Jesus. If we treat them with hospitality, we are treating Jesus with hospitality and respect. Christian disciples thus convey not only their message but the presence of Jesus and therefore of God. So people’s response to these “prophets” is at the same time a response to Christ himself.
Psalm – Psalm 69: 8-11, (12-17), 18-20
This psalm is a lament, a cry for God’s help in a time of great distress. Even though suffering great pain, the psalmist never loses hope that God will be there to help and console. God will not desert the poor and the innocent in their time of suffering.
Epistle – Romans 6:1b-11
Paul defends himself against the charge (3:8; 6:1) that his emphasis upon grace as a free gift not dependent upon works was an encouragement to sin (5:20). He replies by pointing out the fact and nature of the Christian’s new relationship to God: in baptism the Christian has died to sin. The waters of baptism identify the believer with Christ, indeed with the very act of redemption–his death and resurrection. By Jesus’ act, the penalty for sin–death–has been paid; baptism credits us with that payment.
The Christian has put off, like old clothes, the old “body of sin”–not the physical body as opposed to the soul, but the sinful impulses of both body and mind. In rabbinical understanding, death freed one from the claims of the commandments, “death pays all debts.” Thus the Christian is no longer enslaved to sin, for Paul asserts that death in baptism frees one from sin. The Christian has been justified, set right, by being united to Christ. Now he or she begins to grow into this reality, although full participation in the resurrection is a future event (6:8). The Christian lives between the already and the not yet, called to “become (in life) what you are (through baptism).”
Gospel – Matthew 10:24-39
In 10:1-42, the risen Jesus prepares members of the Matthean congregation (80-90 CE) for the conditions they will face as they seek to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20a).
Today’s reading is a part of Jesus’ instructions to the Twelve (10:1-42), whom he sends out to continue his ministry. Much of the material in the first section is found in Mark and Luke, not in their mission discourses, but in the eschatological discourses near the end of the gospels (Mark 13:9-13; Luke 21:12-19). The same kind of warnings are found also in the farewell discourse in John (chaps. 14–16). Matthew, however, indicates that he sees persecution as part of the normal life of the Church rather than as a special sign of the end.
Matthew exhorts Christians to fearless confession. Disciples are encouraged three times (10:26, 28, 31) not to fear what any person can do. In contrast to fearing people, the fear of God is an open, reverent, humble awe. This trust in God bestows fearlessness upon all disciples. The death and resurrection of Jesus show that those who kill the body cannot separate disciples from God and from fullness of life. The denial or acknowledgement of Christ is the touchstone of each disciple’s destiny.