First reading: Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10 Responsorial: Psalm 40:2, 3, 4, 18 Second reading: Hebrews 12:1-4 Gospel passage: Luke 12:49-53
Lifted Up by Msgr. Richard Henning
The passage from Luke this weekend demands our attention with the intensity of its language. “Be not afraid,” “peace be with you,” “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Such is the language we usually expect from the Lord. And yet here He speaks of a terrible baptism and the division that awaits those who take His path.
As we have heard over the last several weeks, Jesus has been instructing His disciples about the pitfalls inherent in the Christian life. It is easy to fall into selfishness, to let greed infect our hearts, and to become complacent. We have also heard Jesus warn His followers to remain alert and warn His Apostles against misusing authority. Jesus now concludes such warnings with a prophetic reference to the cross, His “baptism,” and the suffering that attends to His self-sacrifice. Again, prophetically, He links their future to the reality of the cross.
Jesus never ceases to be a peacemaker. In fact, it is above all in the blood of His cross that He makes the ultimate peace. But His message received a mixed response. Many heard His words and cried blasphemy. It is no accident that Jesus appears to have identified with the prophet Jeremiah, a great prophet who suffered terrible rejection and death for his burning faithfulness to the Word of God. This Sunday, we hear of some of Jeremiah’s suffering. He has announced to the people of a besieged Jerusalem that God wills them to surrender to the Babylonians. His message is unpopular with the army defending the city as the soldiers are demoralized and the leaders are enraged. They accuse Jeremiah of traitorous words when he speaks none other than God’s words. A weak and indecisive king adds to the poisonous mix and Jeremiah is thrown into a muddy well to languish and die. It takes the appeal of a foreigner to bring the king to intervene and rescue Jeremiah.
While the events surrounding Jesus’ passion may involve the most element forces of good and evil, individual human beings made their choices and played their part. Just as in the case of Jeremiah, confusion, rage, and violence crowd out humility and faithfulness to God’s will. In this passage, we hear the depth of emotion in Jesus’ words and recognize the anguish that afflicts Him already.
And it is an anguish that will belong to His followers. The day will come when they will proclaim the crucified one as Lord and Savior to the nations. And with that proclamation will come the reality of the cross and its suffering. They too will know rejection, even rejection by family members. The decision for Jesus will divide as surely as the words and deeds of Jesus divided Israel.
But even as Jesus warns of anguish and division, His words are also a prophetic witness to hope. Jesus remained utterly faithful to the will of God even to His death. And when He seemed defeated by violence, the Lord “came to his aid.” These words of the Psalmist point to the hope in Jesus’ warning. It was the Lord’s intervention that lifted Jeremiah from the muddy well and it is the Lord who draws Jesus out of “the pit of destruction.” Raised from death, Jesus offers triumph over death to those who believe. Even those who suffer for His name and experience the rejection of those closest to them may now hope that their vindication will be as sure.
The power of this hope lives on in those who hear the Word of God and act upon it. Even to our generation, countless Christians have hear the call and responded despite the cost. We need only think of the martyred Christians of the Middle East, North Korea, China, and many other places. They have risked everything, endured everything, given everything in their choice to believe. As the Book of Hebrews tells us, we have the benefit of this “great cloud of witnesses” to spur us on to decision for the Lord. Like them, we must see the anguish and determination of the Lord Jesus in his work of our redemption and find the capacity to persevere. How can we turn back at the first sign of opposition when he endured so much more for our sake?
The depth of Jesus’ emotion and the power of his words today mean to shake us from our easy claim to be Christian. We must make our choice to follow and accept the cost. The path entails pitfalls, obstacles, and, at times, violent rejection. But on that path, the Lord will “come to our aid.” And, at the end of the path lies a hope beyond our wildest dreams. There, the Lord will “lift us up” and put a song in our mouths.