First Reading: Jeremiah 20:10-13 Responsorial: Psalm 69:8-10, 14, 17. 33-37 Second Reading: Romans 5:12-15 Gospel passage: Matthew 10:26-33
Saint Paul experienced his conversion and call an entirely unmerited gift from the Lord. He considered himself the least likely of candidates to proclaim the Lord Jesus to the nations and after his conversion acknowledged that he had sinned grievously in persecuting Christian believers. Paul had a distorted vision of God’s will and the meaning of the Holy Scriptures that would be healed and transformed by his encounter with Jesus on the road and his subsequent life in Christ. Given the truth that his own salvation was only possible by the Lord’s loving mercy, it should not surprise us that Paul was ever aware of the truth of grace. In fact, you could say that he invented the theological term. He took the Greek term for gift and used it to express the depth of God’s love and mercy in his own life and in the wider life of the Christian community. As Paul writes to the Christian community in Rome, introducing himself and his ministry to that community, he adopts this language to express his passionate belief. In this passage one verse (15) contains three instances of the use of this language of “gift” or “grace” (in the English translation “gift,” “grace,” and “gracious”).
The other passages for this Sunday circle around the challenges of living and proclaiming the Word of God in a world that is often unwilling to hear it. The first reading comes from the Book of Jeremiah, a prophet who suffered rejection and persecution by his own people and the religious leadership for his fidelity to God’s call and God’s word. The vivid language of this passage captures both the frightening context in which Jeremiah exercised his ministry and his trust in the Lord even as he faced desolation. Psalm 69 provides a fitting response to this moment, giving words to the cry from the heart of a faithful but suffering and rejected servant of the Lord.
In the passage from the 10th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus continues His “mission” discourse, giving His disciples advice and instructions for their participation in His announcement of the kingdom. These particular verses are a loosely grouped collection of sayings with parallels in the other synoptic gospels. As we hear the Lord speak to His disciples of the courage that will be required in the face of rejection and opposition, it is important to recall that the Lord is intimately familiar with that rejection and that courage. Like Jeremiah, His ministry provoked a mixed response. In particular, the leadership opposed Him with harsh condemnations and deadly violence. Also like Jeremiah, Jesus reveals His trust in the Father and His fidelity to His mission. Here he challenges His disciples to similar trust and fidelity. They have not been given some secret knowledge to distinguish them from others, they have been given liberating truth that must be shared with and by all.
On the surface, these passages that concern courage in the face of rejection appear rather different from Paul’s ringing acclamation of grace. In fact, they are different aspects of the same mystery. Paul would certainly know his own share of rejection. More fundamentally, the truth of grace – of God’s love and mercy – provide the context and foundation for the trust and fidelity called for in the face of opposition and rejection.