Saturday, August 05, 2006

Saturday in the 17th Week of Ordinary Time (II)
The Rescue of Jeremiah and John

Readings: Jeremiah 26:11-16, 24; Psalm 69:15-16, 30-31, 33-34; Matthew 14:1-12

Two prophets with different fates – that seems to be the subject of our two readings today. Both Jeremiah and John the Baptist encounter persecution and both face the death sentence. In the first reading, however, Jeremiah finds a protector in Ahikam son of Shaphan. But in the gospel, John the Baptist is beheaded in prison. Were not both faithful to their God-given mission? Did both not cry out to God for help – just as the psalmist does in the responsorial psalm? Rescue me from sinking in the mud; save me from my foes… In your great love, answer me, O God. And yet God does not seem to heed the prayer of John even as God rescues Jeremiah.

John’s experience is not foreign to us. We probably know, at least to some extent, what it feels like to suffer for doing what is right without being rescued in spite of our prayers. And the media brings us news of innocent suffering and death on a daily basis.

At such times, we may think that God has forsaken us. Has He?

A hint of an answer appears at the end of today’s gospel reading. We are told that John’s disciples went off to tell Jesus about John's fate. The last word of the reading provides the consolation in our desolation. Although God may seem to allow John the Baptist to walk into the terrifying mists of darkness and death, it is not a journey into oblivion. Rather, in Jesus, God accompanies John. In Jesus, God shares in John’s agony and anguish. We are reminded especially of Jesus’ cry on the cross: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46) In Jesus, God gives John the answer beyond all answers. In Jesus, God stretches out His mighty arm to save in a manner that transcends all others. For in Jesus, God enters into every human experience possible, even the experience of death. O death where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? (1 Corinthians 15:55) It is thus also in Jesus, that we find the strength to walk the way of the prophet, to work towards that day when innocent suffering and death may be forever eradicated.

Read in faith, today’s readings tell of how both prophets – both Jeremiah and John – are rescued by God. For the Lord listens to the needy and does not spurn his servants in their chains. How is God rescuing us today?

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