Gospel Reflections

20th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Luke 12:49-53

Sunday Gospel Reflection by Sister Camilla Burns

Published: August 18, 2019

He is at the bottom of a pit with mud squishing between his toes.  He looks up only to see a circle of blue. How does the devoted prophet Jeremiah come to such an ignominious punishment? He didn’t tell people they would be prosperous and happy, but he proclaimed the word of God in unvarnished truth and King Zedekiah was most displeased. Like all prophets, Jeremiah was not a foreteller but a forth teller.

A group of leaders wanted to put this bothersome prophet to death and the king agreed because he “could do nothing with him.” Truth tellers are often inconvenient problems. An amazing thing happens to Jeremiah during his life-threatening situation. From the most unexpected quarters comes aid from King Zedekiah’s very own Ethiopian servant.

Ebed-Melech (his Hebrew name means Servant of the King) decided not to sit back and watch the demise of Jeremiah but went directly to the king and insisted that these men who threw him in a cistern were “at fault” and Jeremiah will die in the cistern.  The vacillating king gave Ebed-Melech three men to help pull Jeremiah out of the cistern.

Ebed-Melech was a courageous hero who risked challenging the king and exposing himself to the ire of the princes who devised the plot.  It was this servant who displayed to the leaders the real meaning of leadership.

Although it is beyond the passage for today, the account tells us that Ebed-Melech went to a room under the treasury and gathered some rags and worn out clothes (38:11).  He let down the ropes and rags and advised Jeremiah to put the rags and clothing under his arms to pad the ropes so that his body would not sustain further injuries.  “Duty makes us do things well, but love makes us do them beautifully.”

Ebed-Melech belongs to the “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1) that surround us.  So often these witnesses come from the most unexpected places and times.  Many risk their lives to challenge the prevailing opinion and act in the face of opposition.  Let us remember with gratitude the many witnesses in our own lives who have given us courage to continue our commitments.

Luke tells us in the gospel that these situations of forthtelling and courageous action can bring about division among us.  In the strong language of Jesus “I have come to set fire upon the earth and how I wish it were already blazing!” (Lk 12:49).  Ebed¬-Melech was a blazing fire of repudiation to the government and daring action to save Jeremiah.  

All is not easy in the Kingdom of God.  However, the fire that Jesus brings to the earth is the fire of love. In the hearts of the hearers fire will certainly purify but at the same time provide kindle for our love to blaze out.


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