Scripture in Depth
Reading I: Jeremiah 20:10-13
This reading has clearly been chosen to match the Gospel, which speaks of the persecution that the apostles will encounter on their mission. Jeremiah was preeminently the prophet who suffered persecution because of his prophetic activity.
His fate influenced the development of the later Jewish view that rejection, persecution, and martyrdom were inseparable from the prophetic vocation, a view echoed in a number of dominical sayings (Luke 11:51; 13:33-34; Mark 12:1-9).
To be a bearer of the word of God means to suffer, because that word inevitably encounters hostility and rejection.
It is illuminating that apparently, according to the sayings of the Lord referred to above, Jesus regarded his own fate as the culmination of the rejection of the prophets and their message.
But it was Paul, more than any other New Testament figure, who regarded Jeremiah as a model for his own apostleship.
Certainly Paul regarded suffering as the supreme manifestation of the cross in his own apostolic ministry (see especially the catalogues of his sufferings in Second Corinthians 4:7-12; 6:3-10; 11:22-33).
Responsorial Psalm: 69:8-10, 14, 17, 33-35
Psalm 69 is one of the great passion psalms of the Old Testament, second only to Psalm 22 in its influence upon the passion narratives of the Gospels. The final couplet of the first stanza of this responsorial psalm is cited by the Fourth Gospel (John 2:17) in connection with the cleansing of the temple. If the Church applied it to the Lord’s passion, it is equally applicable to the fate of Jeremiah in today’s liturgy.
Reading II: Romans 5:12-15
In Romans 5-8, Paul is expounding the liberating effect of Christ’s redemptive deed—it brings freedom from wrath, from sin, from the law as a means of salvation, and from death.
Here the Apostle enunciates our liberation from sin and death by a comparison of Christ and Adam. Each wrought a deed with momentous consequences.
Disobedience (= trespass) Obedience (death on the cross)
sin } spreading to the many free gift, grace
Although there is an antithetical correspondence (Adam is called the “type” of Christ), the correspondence is transcended in a “much more.”
The caption at the head of the reading is unfortunately ambiguous: “God’s gift to us is nothing like our sin against him.” This could suggest that our sin is much greater than God’s grace.
But Paul means it the other way around: God’s grace is much greater than our sin.
It was easy enough to introduce sin and death upon the tabula rasa of human life, but much more difficult to eradicate them after they had been introduced.
We have to guard against reading later theological ideas into Paul’s statement about the fall. He does not say that Adam introduced into human life a hereditary trait that is henceforth transmitted biologically.
Death, we are told, spread to all members of the human race, not because Adam sinned or because they sinned “in Adam,” but because all sinned like Adam.
Adam, as it were, opened the door to sin and death; ever since, sin and death have been prowling around, and all persons have fallen under their clutches because they have succumbed to sin. Adam created the environment in which all would sin and would therefore come under the dominion of death.
Nor must we interpret the passage so as to mean that physical death is, in a crude and mechanical sort of way, a punishment for sin, even for actual sin. (If it is punishment for “original sin,” such a view is even more deterministic, and ultimately Gnostic.)
Rather, “death” is to be understood theologically as the theological consequence of sin. Death means separation from God, and separation is the consequence of sin. Physical death is not a punishment but a biological inevitability.
For human beings, however, it is existentially the final revelation of their utter aloneness in a world in which they have cut themselves off from God by sin.
Gospel: Matthew 10:26-33
This is a continuation of the Matthean missionary charge to the Twelve, the beginning of which we read last week. As already indicated, this is a challenge to fearless proclamation in the face of persecution and an assurance of God’s care for his witnesses and of their ultimate vindication.
The first saying (“nothing is covered”) occurs in various contexts in the Synoptists. Here it is applied to the apostolic preaching. Its original application (see Mark) was probably eschatological: the kingdom of God, which is operative in a hidden way in Jesus’ ministry, will at the end be made visible to all who see.
Matthew is rather fond of the body/soul contrast, which is not typical of Scripture. It represents popular Hellenistic language, not a systematically thought-out anthropology.
Who is the one who can cast into Gehenna (RSV: “hell”)? The Father? Christ? Satan? All three interpretations have found their advocates.
The context, however, suggests that Matthew refers it to the Father, for it is the Father who is able to let the sparrows fall to the ground. The protection of the witnesses is contingent upon their faithful testimony.
“You are of more value” is not a general statement about the value of human personality; it is an assurance for the messengers. While they are on duty delivering their message, they will be guarded, but even this does not exclude martyrdom. One way or another, the message will be delivered. That is what is important.
In other synoptic versions of the final saying (v. 33), a distinction is drawn between Jesus and the Son of man, though the relation between the two figures is one of functional identity.
For the earlier tradition, Jesus was a figure on earth, and the Son of man was a transcendent figure in heaven. The resurrection revealed their identity, and Matthew carries this to its logical conclusion by substituting “I” for the Son of man on the transcendent side.
The apostle’s testimony on earth, whether given or shirked, will determine his fate at the end.
The whole section is an exhortation to faithful and courageous testimony even in the face of suffering and persecution, presumably a very relevant message for Matthew’s Church.
Reginald H. Fuller
**From Saint Louis University