In the first reading this week Jeremiah has been thrown into a cistern because his prophecy did not agree with the prevailing opinions of the princely leaders of his time concerning the fate of the Jewish people. The prophet had been telling them that they should not make an alliance with Egypt; rather they should simply surrender to the Babylonians. Jeremiah was persecuted because of fidelity to the prophecy he was announcing. It is only after a foreigner goes to the king that Jeremiah is removed from the cistern.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus talks about the manner in which his followers will bring division to even the most intimate relationships. Family relationships will experience disruptions over the Gospel teaching. Jesus warns his disciples that his teaching will cause tension and rejection since it is so contrary to the worldly culture of his own time.
These two situations provide warnings for the followers of Jesus in our own time and cultures. The full message of the Gospel is rejected by multitudes because it requires dedication and fidelity. First, the Gospel demands that we follow the way of truth and reject the way of lying. One consequence of truth telling is often rejection by the one who hears the truth. Jesus tells us that he is the way, the truth and the life. Our faith counsels us to follow Jesus. Second, it is part of Gospel teaching to value life from conception to natural death. The abortion debates in our culture manifest that the Gospel brings division and separation. If we are to be followers of Jesus we must accept the implications of telling the truth and protecting life. Sometimes the Gospel will even involve persecution towards those who try to live according to its demands.
The selection from Hebrews encourages us when we face difficulties caused by adhering to Gospel teachings. The author says, “since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus the leader and perfecter of faith” (Heb. 12:1-2a). The witnesses are all those good and holy people who made the Gospel teachings the center of their lives. Just as these witnesses kept their eyes fixed on Jesus, so we too want to set the course of our lives in accord with the Gospel. If anyone has ever run a marathon one knows that much of the running simply requires perseverance. Our Christian life also is largely a matter of perseverance. The prize for our perseverance to Gospel teaching is eternal life with Jesus.
Fr. Treloar, an assistant director at Jesuit Retreat House, Oshkosh, has served as a professor, lecturer, author and academic administrator.