The fourth commandment – Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Ludwig Meidner, “Jeremiah the prophet in the pit” (1935) charcoal.

Central Idea: People often reject those who serve God. Doctrine and Practical Application: The fourth commandment and an examination of conscience for family life.

To view the Lectionary 120 readings, click here.

Central Idea: People often reject those who serve God

Reading 1 Jer 38:4-6, 8-10

In those days, the princes said to the king:
“Jeremiah ought to be put to death;
he is demoralizing the soldiers who are left in this city,
and all the people, by speaking such things to them;
he is not interested in the welfare of our people,
but in their ruin.”
King Zedekiah answered: “He is in your power”;
for the king could do nothing with them.
And so they took Jeremiah
and threw him into the cistern of Prince Malchiah,
which was in the quarters of the guard,
letting him down with ropes.
There was no water in the cistern, only mud,
and Jeremiah sank into the mud.

Ebed-melech, a court official,
went there from the palace and said to him:
“My lord king,
these men have been at fault
in all they have done to the prophet Jeremiah,
casting him into the cistern.
He will die of famine on the spot,
for there is no more food in the city.”
Then the king ordered Ebed-melech the Cushite
to take three men along with him,
and draw the prophet Jeremiah out of the cistern before he should die.

  • The princes or military commanders of Israel didn’t like what Jeremiah was saying and characterized it as demoralizing and ruinous. They resolved to put him to death by throwing him into a muddy cistern where he would die.
  • This Ebed-melech, an Ethiopian court official, came to his rescue.
  • As a true prophet, Jeremiah carried out his religious and civic duty by proclaiming to those in authority what was right. The princes preferred to kill Jeremiah rather than hear his inconvenient truths. King Zedekiah’s position was too weak to oppose them. But the Ethiopian official had the courage to plead for Jeremiah’s life, which caused the King to relent.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 40:2, 3, 4, 18

R. Lord, come to my aid!

I have waited, waited for the LORD,
and he stooped toward me.

The LORD heard my cry.
He drew me out of the pit of destruction,
out of the mud of the swamp;
he set my feet upon a crag;
he made firm my steps.

And he put a new song into my mouth,
a hymn to our God.
Many shall look on in awe
and trust in the LORD.

Though I am afflicted and poor,
yet the LORD thinks of me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
O my God, hold not back!

  • God comes to the aid of those who are poor and afflicted. He promises to rescue those who call upon him. Jeremiah was literally sunk in the mud in a pit of destruction.
  • The “pit of destruction” that imprisons us and the “mud of the swamp” that pull us down are really sin and death. God promises forgiveness for sinners and eternal life to the afflicted and poor ones who call upon him. That is all of us. Can we admit we are in that class?
  • The result for us if we can is that even in the midst of affliction, we can be in awe of God and trust in his goodness to us.

Reading 2 Heb 12:1-4

Brothers and sisters:
Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,
let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us
and persevere in running the race that lies before us
while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus,
the leader and perfecter of faith.
For the sake of the joy that lay before him
he endured the cross, despising its shame,
and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God.
Consider how he endured such opposition from sinners,
in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart.
In your struggle against sin
you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.

  • The “great cloud of witnesses” the writer of Hebrews refers to are all the great Old Testament religious figures, including Jeremiah.
  • The greatest example of a living faith is Jesus Christ, who endured the Cross to achieve the promise of salvation for us.
  • The promise or goal is heaven, eternal life, the secure possession of every good thing, God our loving Creator most of all.
  • The author of Hebrews compares our life to a race. The finish line is death. The prize is eternal happiness. The burdens we ought to throw off because they weigh us down are unnecessary attachments and sins. We run toward the joy that awaits us.
  • Has any one of us really struggled that hard against our own defects that we can say we have done enough? In our “struggle against sin” have we “resisted to the point of shedding blood”?

Gospel Lk 12:49-53

Jesus said to his disciples:
“I have come to set the earth on fire,
and how I wish it were already blazing!
There is a baptism with which I must be baptized,
and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!
Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?
No, I tell you, but rather division.
From now on a household of five will be divided,
three against two and two against three;
a father will be divided against his son
and a son against his father,
a mother against her daughter
and a daughter against her mother,
a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

  • The baptism Jesus had to undergo was his death on the Cross.
  • Even though Christ did come to establish peace between God and man, that peace causes a division between those who accept it and those who reject it. In this way Christ becomes a sign of contradiction (CCC 575-576).
  • If there is a conflict between God’s will and any other will, including the will of your own family of birth or of marriage, whose will do you think you should follow?
  • We should never go looking for conflicts between our faith and our family, but what kinds of conflicts can we expect to see?
    • Your family might reject the Gospel and disown you if you become a Christian.
    • Your family might object to your taking the demands of your Christian faith seriously.
    • Your family might object to the vocation you think God is calling you to.

Doctrine and Practical Application: The fourth commandment and an examination of conscience for family life

  • The family is so important that the Catechism of the Catholic Church devotes thirty-three points to it exclusively (2201-2233).
  • Here we will look at the family through the Catechism’s summary points (2247-2257).
  • A person’s duties toward his parents, their duties toward him, his duties toward all other authorities including the government, and their duties toward him are all contained in the fourth commandment, “Honor your father and your mother.”
  • Every one of us can examine our conduct in the light of the fourth commandment because we are children, or parents, or exercise authority, or are under authority.
  • Our duties under the fourth commandment differ, depending on our age, whether we are married or single, working or retired, and so on.
  • In surveying what the Catechism says about the Fourth Commandment, we will include some questions each person can ask himself.
  • To assure that we don’t misunderstand Christ’s words about being opposed to our parents, the CCC reminds us that, “According to the fourth commandment, God has willed that, after him, we should honor our parents and those whom he has vested with authority for our good” (CCC 2248). When it comes to respect and obedience, then, God comes first, then our parents, then others who have legitimate authority.
    • Do I put God first in my life, asking what he wants, and then doing my best to make that real?
  • The family is founded upon “the covenant and consent of the spouses.” Husband and wife make a freely chosen, life-long, faithful promise. Their marriage and family, if God blesses them with children, exists for “the good of the spouses” and “the procreation and the education of children.” (CCC 2249)
    • Have I made a great enough effort to understand the nature of marriage and the family in this time when it is so severely under attack? Do I defend marriage and the family to the extent that I am able?
    • Am I living in a state contrary to marriage and the family through cohabitation, or refusal to have children without a serious reason, or contraception, or “re-marriage”?
  • A great deal of the happiness and good order of individuals and society depends on whether marriages and families are healthy (CCC 2250).
    • If I want to be married someday, am I becoming the kind of person who can be a good spouse and father or mother?
    • If I am married and a father or mother, do I take my vocation seriously and give it my best attention?
  • “Children owe their parents respect, gratitude, just obedience, and assistance.” Brothers and sisters owe one another respect. (CCC 2251). While respect always remains, our obligation to obey our parents ends when we are adults.
    • Depending on my age, have I thought about what I owe my parents and do I give it to them?
    • If I am an adult, in what ways do I actually honor my parents?
    • Regardless of how old I am, do I at least show respect for my siblings?
  • “Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children in the faith, prayer, and all the virtues. They have the duty to provide as far as possible for the physical and spiritual needs of their children.” (CCC 2252)
    • If I have children, am I doing what I can to raise them in the Catholic faith and to provide for their physical and spiritual needs?
  • “Parents should respect and encourage their children’s vocations” but they do not determine their vocations. A Christian’s first duty is to follow Christ. (CCC 2253).
    • Am I open to my children discovering their vocation and living it? Do I pray for this?
  • Public authority must respect the rights of individual persons, while citizens have the duty to build up the common good (CCC 2254-2255).
    • Am I a good citizen of whatever communities I belong to?
  • Citizens have the duty to disobey civil authority when it is immoral. “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29; CCC 2256) Our own society is in danger of becoming totalitarian to the extent that it rejects the light of the Gospel (2257). Being a good citizen means standing up for what is right.
    • Do I adequately inform myself of what is going on in society and the government and participate in shaping my society according to what is right?
    • Am I willing to shed my blood in defense of the Gospel?






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