Saturday of 17th Week of the Year, August 1, 2020

What would be our reaction if someone told us right in our face that we are not the people we are supposed or pretend to be? Look what happened to Jeremiah and John the Baptist. Jeremiah has to fight for his life. He will surely fail. John the Baptist loses it sooner. All gruesomely. Would we welcome prophets better than the people in their time, even if they are right? It is so difficult to face the truth about ourselves. Because it is difficult to change, to be open to true conversion. Truth is bitter, says the Nigerian. Let us pray in this Eucharist for the courage to face this disturbing, but, life transforming truth.

Opening Prayer
Lord our God,
you know how we tend to resist
the full impact of the gospel
of your Son Jesus Christ,
because we like to hear what pleases us.
Let your Spirit give us the courage
to accept the conversion and detachment
that the gospel demands
and to welcome the persons
who remind us of your word
in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

1 Reading: Jeremiah 26:11-16, 24
The priests and prophets said to the princes and to all the people, “This man deserves death; he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears.” Jeremiah gave this answer to the princes and all the people: “It was the LORD who sent me to prophesy against this house and city all that you have heard. Now, therefore, reform your ways and your deeds; listen to the voice of the LORD your God, so that the LORD will repent of the evil with which he threatens you. As for me, I am in your hands; do with me what you think good and right. But mark well: if you put me to death, it is innocent blood you bring on yourselves, on this city and its citizens. For in truth it was the LORD who sent me to you, to speak all these things for you to hear.” Thereupon the princes and all the people said to the priests and the prophets, “This man does not deserve death; it is in the name of the LORD, our God, that he speaks to us.” So Ahikam, son of Shaphan, protected Jeremiah, so that he was not handed over to the people to be put to death.

Responsorial Psalm 69:15-16, 30-31, 33-34
R. (14c) Lord, in your great love, answer me.

Rescue me out of the mire; may I not sink!
may I be rescued from my foes,
and from the watery depths.
Let not the flood-waters overwhelm me,
nor the abyss swallow me up,
nor the pit close its mouth over me. R.

But I am afflicted and in pain;
let your saving help, O God, protect me.
I will praise the name of God in song,
and I will glorify him with thanksgiving. R.

“See, you lowly ones, and be glad;
you who seek God, may your hearts revive!
For the LORD hears the poor,
and his own who are in bonds he spurns not.” R.

Alleluia Matthew 5:10
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel Matthew 14:1-12
Herod the tetrarch heard of the reputation of Jesus and said to his servants, “This man is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why mighty powers are at work in him.” Now Herod had arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, for John had said to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” Although he wanted to kill him, he feared the people, for they regarded him as a prophet. But at a birthday celebration for Herod, the daughter of Herodias performed a dance before the guests and delighted Herod so much that he swore to give her whatever she might ask for. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and the guests who were present, he ordered that it be given, and he had John beheaded in the prison. His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who took it to her mother. His disciples came and took away the corpse and buried him; and they went and told Jesus.

It is encouraging to read accounts of the prophet’s voice being heeded. Such is the case in Jeremiah’s warning to the princes and the people.
But it is equally sad to read, in today’s Gospel, the account of the Baptist’s death to satisfy a perverse whim. It is true that it is not always easy to verify a prophet. But even when one might be inauthentic, the prophet should not be silenced. Jeremiah’s word was verified; his call to conversion could have resulted in the people and country being saved. But instead of paying attention to his message, his opponents latched on to words that sounded treasonous. Simple attachment to the temple of the Lord would not bring deliverance; a life of fidelity to God would. Has it occurred to you that majority of those hatefully opposed to God’s prophets, Jesus inclusive, are men ministering, supposedly, around God’s attar, living in the temple. What they are called, your guess is as good as mine. The prophet Jeremiah will soon be their victim.
John was beheaded because he told Herod that the king’s marital relationship was immoral. Herod knew that the people revered John and therefore would not have him killed. But Herodias, his wife, proved to be the schemer and brought about his death.
Duplicity in our fives should be avoided at all cost. Any form of double dealing or behind-the-scenes manipulation is unchristian. Let us be attentive to voices that differ from our own thinking, even when we may not be in agreement. And above all, let our words be honest and straightforward. Stand always by the truth, even if you stand alone (Gani Oyesola Fawehinmi).

– For all ministers of the word and for all Christians, that they may have the courage to carry out their prophetic task of proclaiming to a skeptical world the undistorted gospel of Christ, we pray:
– For the prophets in our midst sent by God to revive us up from our complacency, that we may not muzzle them but heed their call for conversion, we pray:
– For the people without voice or deprived of their rights, that the Lord may give us a voice to speak out for them we pray:

Prayer over the Gifts
Lord our God,
we bring this bread and wine before you
that Jesus, the prophet of your good news,
may be alive among us.
Open us to his stirring words
that call us away from our fears
and self-made havens of security.
Make us your people.
Make it come fully true in us
that you have set us free
by the body and blood of your Son,
Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Prayer after Communion
Lord our God,
in this Eucharistic celebration
you have contested in us
our mediocrity, our complacency
by the word and example of your Son.
Do not allow us to stifle
his cry for authentic living
for you and for those you have entrusted to us.
Keep speaking to us
in the events and people of our time
your ever-new word of freedom and hope
for which Jesus laid down his life.
Let him be our Lord for ever.

We should be grateful when people make us face the truth about ourselves, also and especially when it is painful. It is a splendid occasion to change for the better. May almighty God bless you, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!

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