Messengers of Discomfort and Sacrifice

Wednesday of the Second Week of Lent

Jeremiah 18:18-20, Matthew 17:20-28

It may seem odd that a friar and a priest would open a reflection quoting a noted atheist and social critic who admitted that his shortened life was the result of years of smoking and heavy drinking.  But my parents and grandparents taught me that I could learn something from almost anyone, so here goes….

In his book, Love, Poverty and War: Journeys and Essays, the late Hitchens wrote: “We can always be sure of one thing—that the messengers of discomfort and sacrifice will be stoned and pelted by those who wish to preserve at all costs their contentment. This is not a lesson,” he added, “that is limited to the Testaments.”

Yet it is certainly a lesson taught repeatedly both the Old and the New Testaments, and it’s explicit in our readings today.  The prophet Jeremiah laments his persecution by the citizen of Jerusalem and the people of Judah, and Jesus predicts his passion and death at the hands of their descendants, along with his resurrection.

Jeremiah preached a message of divine judgment, destruction and exile to a people who were unwilling to face their own infidelity to God and their personal and social sins.  Jesus was a Messiah that few people expected and many could not accept. 

He associated with outcasts, he promoted mercy and compassion over uncritical observance of religious rules. 

He called everyone to conversion, including those who were spiritually self-satisfied. 
He proclaimed a spiritual revolution that would result in transformed relationships and structures rather than a political or military revolution that would impose a new order.
He told his disciples that true power was rooted in service, and he demonstrated that power in the sacrifice of his life in ministry and ultimately on the cross.

An early 20th century newspaper columnist, Peter Finley Dunne, said that the job of a newspaper was to “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.”  That has always been part of the prophet’s job description.  We pray for the grace to open our ears, eyes, minds and hearts to prophets, old and new—to have the humility to be afflicted when we are comfortable and to be comforted when afflicted.  –JC