20TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C
By: Rev. Fr. Sylvanus Ameh
Readings: Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10; Psalm 40; Hebrews 12:1-4; Luke 12:49-53
Theme: Table Shakers
Today’s readings present us with unsettling events. Reading I is on the travails of the Prophet Jeremiah. In 587 when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon besieged the Southern Kingdom of Judah, on God’s leading, the prophet Jeremiah warned King Zedekiah that the only way of escaping total destruction of the kingdom was to surrender to Nebuchadnezzar. This was contrary to the advice of the leading men of the city, and they accused Jeremiah of disheartening the soldiers who were poised for war. Zedekiah knew that his army was incapable of defeating Nebuchadnezzar’s army, but he chose to tow the path of political correctness in order not to offend the political key players of the kingdom. However, Jeremiah continued in his business of shaking tables, even though he appeared to be a lone voice pointing out the obvious. Eventually, refusing to heed the word of God through Jeremiah, Zedekiah went to war against Nebuchadnezzar. He was defeated, the city of Jerusalem was destroyed, and the people were taken into exile. In Reading II, St Paul recounts the ordeals of Jesus, the pioneer and finisher of our faith and sets them as examples before the Christian community who must also be ready to face hardships on account of the gospel of Jesus which they carry and which without doubt, will turn them into table shakers. And in the Gospel reading, Jesus makes a seemingly controversial statement when he said: “I have not come to bring peace but division.” This division shall come as a result of the fact that the message which he preaches and which his followers shall also preach is capable of ruffling feathers. From these readings, there are two lessons we shall draw.
1. Christians must incur losses
Jesus says he has come to bring division among people. Christianity is a religion of peace, but what it stands for can cause people to become antagonistic. This is because the Christian message and way of life is one that shakes tables and makes some people uncomfortable. While for some, it is the road to salvation, for others, it will be the cause of their downfall. Saint Paul says “We preach Christ crucified, to the Jews, a stumbling block; to the gentiles, madness; but to those who believe, it is the power and wisdom of God” (I Cor 1:23-24). The division caused by Christianity is therefore borne out of differences in opinion and preferences. Christians are called to live a life of righteousness and there are many people who will not like them for that. Some people will be rejected by their friends and even family because they have chosen to follow Jesus.
- When for example, you choose, as a woman, not to be a gossip again, your friends and gossip mates will leave you because your lifestyle now discomforts them.
- When a man stops following friends to drink and get drunk, his former drinking partners may no longer consider him their friend because his new life in Christ opposes their own way of life.
- When as a business man, you now choose to sell quality products at the correct price, many of your business colleagues may hate you on account of it.
- If as a civil servant, military or police officer, you choose not to accept bribes again, you will lose money and also lose some friends and colleagues. You may even be framed and lose your job.
- If as a young girl, you no longer follow your friends to play “runs” because you have given your life to Christ, your former “runs” girls will no longer be comfortable around you, so they will leave you.
When we give our lives over to Jesus and begin to live in righteousness, we shall be divided or separated from many worldly things: money, fame, pleasure, comfort, friends, and even family, and all these shall happen because our new lifestyle in Christ Jesus shall shake the table of their consciences and discomfort them. But we must not be deterred or discouraged; we should rather always remember the words of Jesus that if we gain the whole world and lose our souls, it is no profit to us (Mat 8:36).
2. Christians must come under fire
In the game of football, soccer, basketball or other ball games, it is only the player with the ball that is most attractive to the camera. It is also only the player with the ball that 2-3 or more players of the opposing team attack. Why? It is simply because he has something good in his possession, something that his being in possession of poses a threat to them. As Christians, when we live uprightly, we must come under attack because we have something good in our possession. The righteousness of our lives is a threat to the ungodly, so we will come under attack. If we live in sin, we are not different from others, so no one will bother about us. Jeremiah was attacked and almost killed because his standing for the obvious truth was a disturbance to the ungodly who somewhat profited from the war. If therefore, we are being attacked for being good, for doing what is right, for standing up for the truth, we should not be discouraged because it means we are truly living the Christian life. The word of God says that if we must suffer, let it be for doing good (I Pet 4:15). On the flip side, if as a Christian, the ungodly are comfortable around you, if your Christian life does not discomfort anyone, does not shake the table of anybody’s conscience, if people will not stop and consider before doing certain things because they know you are around, then you are living your Christianity in complacency and you need to step up.
Today, dear friends, God challenges us to go into the world and disturb it, to make the ungodly uncomfortable by our righteousness so that they may consider the option of repentance; God today challenges us to shake the tables of people’s consciences till they come down from that place of comfort in sin and embrace the life of uprightness. In doing this, we will be attacked for living in holiness, but we must never give up because God shall give us victory as he gave Jeremiah. Jesus says in John 16:33, “In the world you will have troubles, but be of good cheers, for I have conquered the world” and the Psalmist tells us that the trials of the righteous are many, but God shall deliver them from them all (Psa 34:19). So as you go out this week, do well to live your life in uprightness and do not be afraid to be a table shaker. May God grant us the courage to always stand for what is right. Amen.