This reflection is being prepared two weeks before Ash Wednesday! I am running a good six weeks ahead of time (the result of being housebound and forbidden to drive after...
An age-old custom in the Church exists in the many references to the Cross of Christ as
A SIGN OF CONTRADICTION. The Cross is indeed a paradox – which each one of us, and the Christian Church as a whole, must understand and, as much as possible solve.
TODAY’S GOSPEL EXTRACT [LUKE 12: 49 – 53]
provides two excellent examples of this. First of all Jesus tells his disciples that “I have a baptism to be baptised with; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished.” The baptism referred to is his Passion, Death and Resurrection. Never forget about the third element of this baptism. His Passion and Death must always be reflected on in terms of his Resurrection. Otherwise, nothing makes sense. Perhaps it would be helpful to recall last week’s reference: I share with all of you the same things, both blessings and dangers.
Here we must understand that word constrained as indicating
being urged irresistibly or by necessity … brought about by compulsion. In other words, Jesus is compelled, urged by necessity, to accomplish this ‘baptism’. In fact he looks forward to it, wants and desires it. This is truly a paradox – Jesus is constrained, URGED forward to his Passion and Death but he does himself not always recognise its essential connection to the Resurrection(remember the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prays to the Father for this cup to be taken away from him).
Here we are able to see the relevance and connection with our
OLD TESTAMENT READING [JEREMIAH 38: 4 – 6. 8 – 10] and TODAY’S PSALM [40 or 39]. The Old Testament extract tells us how Jeremiah becomes enormously unpopular with the leaders who impose their will on a weak and vacillating king. The prophet is thrown into a cistern and left to die. However he lives to see better days – even though this will include the 40-years he spent with the Jews during the Babylonian Captivity. It is, for me, also interesting to see the similarity between this experience of Jeremiah with the king, and Jesus’ experience with Pontius Pilate. The difference, however, is that the king, in the end but in secret rescued the prophet, while Pilate chose to wash his hands of the matter.
Some phrases from the Psalm, therefore, make a great deal of sense.
“I waited, waited for the Lord, and he stooped down to me; he heard my cry. He drew me from the deadly pit … set my feet upon a rock … put a new song into my mouth … the Lord is mindful of me, you are my rescuer, my help.”
obvious paradox appears when Jesus, the Prince of Peace, proclaims “do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” I believe it is important for us to recognise the value of the Gospel call to handle our differences of opinion as well as faith and religious issues in a truly Christian manner. Too often there is an overreaction and things are said which should not be spoken. As I have pointed out before – if the Church always suits me then you can be certain that it does not suit a great many other people. In all of this we are offered a valuable approach in TODAY’S NEW TESTAMENT EXTRACT [HEBREWS 12: 1 – 4]. “Let us lay aside every weight …. which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance … looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” There is nothing wrong with lighting a fire that gathers us together about its warmth – but there is something radically unchristian about being a faith / religious arsonist which reduces an entire building to ruins. Left or right winged radicalism of any shape or form is always BAD NEWS and is counterproductive. Differences should never become divisions.
People are not converted by hitting them over the head with a ten-pound hammer
. Very often a quiet and gentle (but clear) example is more effective. It is possible to state our position clearly without becoming offensive. THERE IS TOO MUCH VERBAL VIOLENCE IN OUR WORLD.
We have to persevere – peacefully and consistently.
Perhaps we need to become pioneers and perfecters?!