The Christian life is a joyful and fulfilling journey. However, since we follow on this journey a King who revealed his glory through the suffering and injustice of the Cross, we cannot expect to be free of all sufferings. The Cross of Christ, which will always appear as “foolishness to those who are on their way to ruin,” is for us “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:18, 24). Today’s readings encourage us to remain faithful to God in our day-to-day struggles so that his power and wisdom can shine forth.
We should not be surprised at opposition or division. The whole Old Testament is full of examples of people resisting the word of God and those who proclaimed it. All the prophets suffered at the hands of those to whom God sent them. The great prophet Jeremiah lamented that his faithfulness to his mission seemed to accomplish nothing more than to cause him more suffering! (cf. Jer 20:7-8). In today’s reading, we do not hear any personal thoughts of Jeremiah himself, but we see how shamefully he is treated by the wicked princes of Jerusalem. They make a false accusation against him before the king: “He is not interested in the welfare of our people, but in their ruin.” Quite the opposite is true; Jeremiah’s message was for the people’s salvation! But the weak king allows the princes to have their way, and they throw Jeremiah into a muddy cistern, leaving him there to die. This is how he is punished for the “crime” of proclaiming in the name of the Lord a message that disturbed them. Only a foreigner, Ebed-melech, has enough courage to see and defend Jeremiah’s innocence.
The horrible experience of Jeremiah is a prefiguration of the suffering of Christ. Just like the prophet, Jesus was accused falsely of causing trouble in the land. Pontius Pilate followed the example of King Zedekiah in letting the leaders of the people have their way against an innocent man. Just as a foreigner saw that Jeremiah was a true messenger of God, in the same way, a foreigner, the Roman centurion, recognized that Jesus hanging on the Cross was truly the Son of God (Mk 15:39).
We too will face trials as we put our faith into practice. Anyone who stands up and defends the truth as an authentic witness of Christ will face challenges, misunderstanding and persecution. Some will even face death. This is simply part of being a Christian. We will be able to persevere only if we rely on the power that gave Jesus the strength to endure his passion – the power of divine love, given to us by the Holy Spirit. Jesus speaks of this when he says, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” This fire is a symbol both of his love and of his Spirit. It is a fire that purifies and energizes those who welcome the Gospel. Jesus wants us all to be consumed with the same intense and ardent love that burns in his own Sacred Heart.
Then Jesus makes the startling declaration that he has not come to establish peace on the earth but division! How can the Prince of Peace say that he is not for peace? Here he is not referring to the true inner peace that comes from doing the will of the Father. He is rejecting the pseudo peace of the world, which comes at the cost of truth and love. It is difficult and painful for us when family members oppose us for our commitment to the Lord, but it is worse to pretend to be united with them while they remain in the darkness of sin. No one, especially the Lord, wants to separate parents from children and split families apart, but it is better to provoke division, even division in the family, than to let error and sin enslave us and our loved ones. This is why Jesus says that he did not come to bring peace but division.
He is fully aware that the new life he is preaching – holding fast to the truth and living it out in love – is against the spirit of the world (cf. 1 Jn 2:15-16). Whenever we strive to promote and live by the truth of the Gospel, we will be hated and persecuted by the world. History presents us with countless examples, especially the martyrs. This is no cause for discouragement. As difficult as the journey can be at times, we are never to forget the goal for which we are striving and the blessing of being counted among the Lord’s children. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:10).
This is the spirit of the passage we read today from the Letter to the Hebrews, which encourages us to “rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us.” We are not alone in this race; we are surrounded by a great “cloud of witnesses,” an immense throng of faithful men and women in glory who have suffered far more than we ever will and have emerged from their trials victorious!
Our spiritual life is not only a journey, it is a race. If we decide to avoid the pains involved in running the race, we risk never reaching the finish line. The word of God teaches us to be realistic about the challenges of faith without growing despondent or abandoning the struggle. It is essential that we keep “our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.” It is the fire of his love that purifies and strengthens us to the end.
In what ways am I misunderstood and persecuted for my faith? Do I tend to keep a pseudo peace by compromising my beliefs? How can I actively show my intense and ardent love for the truth?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 15, no. 6. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.