Just Announced: Philippians Sermon Series

Summary: To speak from the heart means that our hearts must not just be on fire, but also enlightened by the fullness of revelation

Thursday of 17th Week in Course

In our two and a half year look at the “Joy of the Gospel,” we have been considering Pope Francis’ words about preaching. Today we have two parallel readings about the response to the preaching of Jeremiah and John the Baptist, and on the surface, they are not encouraging to preachers! Let’s consider the context of each.

Jeremiah prophesied to the kingdom of Judah in the last decades of its existence, and all through the catastrophes that ended with the destruction of the walls and the Temple and its plundering by Nebuchadnezzar in 587-586 BC. God had called the Jews to be his special people, dedicated to Him and worshiping only Him. But they for generations kept going back to the worship of false gods, and practicing all kinds of lewd and cruel pagan liturgies. There is even evidence that for most of the time, a statue of a consort-god, a female, was set up in the Temple of Jerusalem. You see here that the priest and false prophets, who supported this false worship, were so upset with Jeremiah that they demanded his death. But the leaders wanted to steer a middle course and let Jeremiah live. For a while he lived in a cistern, and then later in confinement in a guardhouse, so the people wouldn’t be demoralized by his preaching. Civil authorities who permit or require evil behavior are not going to tolerate for long any preacher who calls them out on their pusillanimous leadership. Remember that tradition tells us the evil king Manasseh had the prophet Isaiah put into a tree and sawed in half.

A similar lesson is offered by St. Matthew’s Gospel in the story of John the Baptist and King Herod. Herod wanted to hear John but neither he nor Herodias wanted him preaching to the people that their union was unlawful. So the weak Herod was seduced into promising the head of John to her daughter, and John’s earthly voice was silenced. Herod, who was clearly superstitious and a believer in ghosts, thought Jesus was a reincarnation of His cousin, John. The early Church knew that the lesson here is that the authorities were no more going to put up with the preaching of Jesus than they did with the message of John. And we in our day need to learn that lesson. If we are persecuted, we are supposed to rejoice, because we are being treated just like Our Lord.

The Holy Father has reminded us of the power of the Word, and the importance of speaking the Word from our heart, not just our head: ‘To speak from the heart means that our hearts must not just be on fire, but also enlightened by the fullness of revelation and by the path traveled by God’s word in the heart of the Church and our faithful people throughout history. This Christian identity, as the baptismal embrace which the Father gave us when we were little ones, makes us desire, as prodigal children – and favorite children in Mary – yet another embrace, that of the merciful Father who awaits us in glory. Helping our people to feel that they live in the midst of these two embraces is the difficult but beautiful task of one who preaches the Gospel.’

Isn’t this a beautiful way to think of our life in this world–it is a progress from the embrace of the Father in baptism to the embrace we look forward to when we die, are purified, and experience the Beatific Vision. Yes, during that life we sin, and we may even hold for a time opinions that are not in accord with God’s revelation. But the merciful Father always forgives when we repent and change our behavior. His mercy endures forever. Here, as we take communion together, the very heavenly food nourishes us for that journey, and we, in faith, give thanks and praise to the God who loves us so much that He gives His only-begotten Son.

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