(See the readings for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Aug. 14)
Jesus speaks this Sunday about the culmination of his mission, which will take place in Jerusalem. He says: “There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!” He is speaking of his passion, death and resurrection.
In his voice we recognize the gravity of what is taking place. The cross of love will indeed entail suffering and rejection. The cross of love, however, leads to life. Jesus’ triumph over sin and death, over evil, will be manifest as he rises from the dead. However he still has to endure the cross. In his complete giving of himself in love he triumphs.
The love flows from Jesus’ relationship with his heavenly Father. He follows his Father and does his will. Jesus’ mission of love is given by the Father. Even through the great trials and suffering, Jesus remains faithful.
The first reading reminds us of another servant of the Lord, Jeremiah. One of the great prophets, he too underwent rejection, torments and suffering by people rejecting the Lord and his message. Yet he does not give up. He continues the mission of proclaiming the Lord’s word. He remains faithful and committed to the mission.
After Jesus speaks of his “baptism,” he turns his attention to the disciples and what they will face. This context is important for understanding his teaching: “From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three….” Jesus is fully aware that the cross of love is difficult to accept. As disciples, we too, are called to carry the cross of love. This will be difficult and there will be people who think it ridiculous, hideous, some even might think it obscene – this leads to the divisions of which Jesus speaks.
As followers of Christ, we too may face these challenges. We see in different parts of the world Christians dying for their commitment to Christ and His Church. Some are rejected by society. Some are rejected by family. In our own country we see the fraying of religious freedom when the faithful seek to run businesses and their affairs based on the teaching of Christ. In some of our families we see divisions based on a rejection of religious faith. We may be outraged by these occurrences but we are also “lifted up” by those who remain faithful in spite of danger, rejection and even death.
These ones are the “great cloud of witnesses” of whom the author of the Letter to the Hebrews speaks. These are the ones who help us, through their struggles, to remain faithful and true. Looking to their witness we are encouraged to “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.”
Hebrews continues, noting that Jesus endures the cross and the suffering with his focus fixed on the “joy that lay before him.” That joy comes from faith in the Father and the victory he wins over sin and death. In that victory he “has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God.”
And so Jesus endures the cross for the victory that lies in store not only for himself but for us as well. “Consider how he endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart.” Jesus carries the cross of love and encourages us to do the same.
The cross of love leads to life; the resurrection is our witness. Love is not always easy or convenient. It is demanding. Any married couple knows this. Any parent knows this. Anyone who remains faithful despite rejection knows this. Anyone who endures suffering for the sake of the faith knows this.
Yet the cross of love is rewarding and life giving. Several weeks ago, we heard that Jesus “resolutely determined to go to Jerusalem” — to go to the cross. Today, Jesus continues his journey to Jerusalem. As he does, he continues to invite us to “take up your cross daily and follow me.”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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