Pentecost 4, Year A, 2020, June 28, 2020

Title:Pentecost 4, Year A, 2020, June 28, 2020

Today’s readings bring us face to face with the intricate balance of God’s judgment and God’s mercy. Jeremiah challenges his hearers to confront the discomfort of God’s judgment. Paul reminds the Roman community that their baptism was a death to sin and they now have a choice to live for God. In the gospel, Jesus reminds us that the response given to his disciples is also a response to him.

Jeremiah lived in a turbulent time in Israel. His career spanned the period of political turmoil that culminated in Judah’s final defeat by the Babylonians (587 BC) and with it the destruction of Jerusalem, the burning of the temple, and the exile of the major part of the population.

In today’s reading, dated approximately seven years after the exile has begun (c. 594 BC), Jeremiah and his opponents who are still in Jerusalem offer alternative versions of what God is doing. Hananiah, perhaps to inspire a sense of revolt against Babylon, has prophesied that the exiles will return in two years and God will once again grant peace to the nation. Jeremiah represents the minority opinion that God is requiring the people to be conquered and go into exile and consequently revolt is futile. To resist the Babylonians as God’s agent is to resist God–which only leads to one’s own destruction.

In the Epistle from Romans, Paul defends himself against the charge (3:8; 6:1) that his emphasis upon grace as a free gift not dependent upon works was an encouragement to sin (5:20). He replies by pointing out the fact and nature of the Christian’s new relationship to God: in baptism the Christian has died to sin. The waters of baptism identify the believer with Christ, indeed with the very act of redemption–his death and resurrection. By Jesus’ act, the penalty for sin–death–has been paid; baptism credits us with that payment. The Christian has been justified, set right, by being united to Christ.

The Christian is no longer enslaved to sin, for Paul asserts that death in baptism frees one from sin. The image of slavery highlights the issue of loyalty. The fundamental question for a Christian is simply, “Who is your Lord or Master? Is it Christ Jesus, or someone else?”

Paul personifies the Law and Sin because, like earthly masters, they attempt to dominate every aspect of our lives. Paul encourages his community to think of themselves in the light of this basic choice that changes everything. Will they be “slaves of sin” (v. 20) and march to death or be “enslaved to God” (v. 23) and enter eternal life?

The Gospel focuses on the rewards that come to those who undertake and who respond to the mission of disciples. Matthew here touches on a consistent theme of Jesus as “God with us (1:23, 28:20)” who hides himself in those whom we encounter (25:31-46).

As Jesus sends the disciples to continue his proclaiming and healing ministry, like every messenger they are invested with the power of the one who sent them. Christian disciples thus convey not only their message but the presence of Jesus and therefore of God. So people’s response to these “prophets” and “little ones” is at the same time a response to Christ himself.

While there are rewards for disciples and even for those who receive them, true “life” (Greek, “psyche,” self) is found only in losing it for Jesus’ sake (John 12:25). This section is addressed generally to “whoever,” recognizing that both those within the Church and those who have not yet heard or heeded the gospel message will be judged equally in God’s eyes on the quality of their response.