In today’s Gospel, Jesus really comes to grips with his mission, and he pulls no punches when it comes to acknowledging the enormity of it all, and how it affects all of us as well.
Let’s have a closer look at the implications of today’s message. There is no doubt about the restlessness in Jesus in today’s Gospel. There is a task ahead that must be faced, no matter how unpleasant or distasteful it is. Jesus longs to complete the work entrusted to him by the Father. The Gospel writer says that, and I quote Jesus as saying, ‘There is a baptism I must still receive, and how great my distress is till it is over!’ Let’s not skip over the word distress! The meaning of this word in this context, cut right into the inner core of Our Lord’s humanity. Distress radiates all over, and all through the body. Distress has the power to completely cripple our actions, its effect can numb our consciousness, and it can also cause us to ‘cave in’. Other effects of distress can cause us to temporarily think that we are choking! It can try to close off our breath because of its gripping clasp within our air way.
Distress seems to have its radiating Center in our guts! We can become very sick because of distress. However, the Repository for the Center of distress, is also the Repository for Compassion, for deep love and the overwhelming feeling of eternal bliss! The Garden of Gethsemane was another time and place where Jesus experienced ‘distress’, so much so that his perspiration was that like drops of blood! At that time Jesus prayed according to Luke22: 41- 44, ‘that this ‘cup’, this ‘final baptism’ be taken away from him.’ Within Our Lord’s ‘distress’ his strength was waning …..He was feeling ever so weak. Then in prayer, Jesus prays part of the Our Father, which he had taught his disciples much earlier….’let your will be done, not mine.’ Notice that with the strength renewed in Jesus, he was able to rise from prayer, and he went to his disciples and noticed that his distress was contagious…..they were sleeping not out of a lack of interest, but out of sheer grief! My O my, isn’t that riveting stuff?
The disciples also were sharing deeply in the Passion and Suffering of Jesus. Jesus and his disciples still had to go through much more distress in the culmination of his dying breath on Calvary as he said, ‘Father it is finished!’ Let’s not forget that even on the Cross, Jesus re prayed a moment in the Garden, when he screamed out, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ These experiences are incorporated into the word used in scripture called, ‘baptism’, as distinct from the Rite of Baptism. The overall task begun at the opening of Our Lord’s ministry is living ‘the ongoing baptism’ called or we could say an orientation which would be fulfilled in and through his Passion and Death; his ultimate triumph!
Jesus began his journey with the baptism of water by John in the River Jordan; with the confirmation of his Father’s words……the crowning of Our Lord’s baptism took place when the Father re breathed ‘LIFE’ into His Son, at the moment of the Resurrection.
Jesus says that he did not come to bring peace on earth. At first reading, this may surprise us, and we might wonder what does he mean? It is only when we understand the nature of the conflict and combat that Jesus had to face on this earth, before the evil one was overcome, that his peace would be available to us. Now, let’s not be in a hurry to skip over two more important words in today’s Gospel which deepen our understanding of the message in Jesus! Notice the use of the word fire! Jesus says that he has come to bring fire; what does that mean?
Just as fire can eliminate the dross from pure gold, so does the message of Jesus in its entirety do the same. The use of the word Peace here can be a bit unusual at first sight, but when we go deep sea diving into God’s Word, we arrive at the notion that the real Peace that Jesus speaks about, is only born through an uncompromising acceptance of His message, which causes a metamorphic positive response within us, which is life changing, and never ending!
Notice that every time that Jesus appeared to his apostles after his Resurrection, his first words were ‘Peace be with you.’ He had achieved a victory, so he could share the peace that follows a victory. Jesus invites us to enter ‘the struggle’ so that we can also be fit to share and celebrate the victory. The victory being that acquisition of PEACE which is within the very heart of our Triune God.
‘I have come to bring strife and division’. Once again, this seems strange to us at first sight, until we reflect seriously on it and then we see that it is true! In the Gospel today the whole family seem to be at each other’s throats! If Jesus landed among a group of people anywhere in the world right now, he would create division. The reason he would create division is that, once he begins to speak his message, the crowd will become divided, some agreeing with him, and some opposed to him. If Jesus waited for everybody to listen to him, he wouldn’t have started yet! Surely this is the natural course of events and we have all seen it, heard and of it. We only have to look at some of the great Saints like St.Thomas Moore, St.Maximilian Kolbe OFM Conv, and our own Australian, St Mary Mackillop; their fundamental desire to live the Gospel according to the way the Holy Spirit urged them in and through Christ’s love, was to push on in the midst of enormous hostility.
For us, and those who reflect upon Saint’s lives, we take note and take heed of the extraordinary graces ‘at work’ in them which enables us to see the healing love of God through them and in them, which is an affirmation that when we receive hostility and enter into distress, we are ultimately on the right track. The ‘in-betweens’ are against him, because Jesus says, ‘if you’re not for me, you’re against me.’
St.Paul the Apostle, following in the footsteps of Jesus only knew so well about division and opposition that his great prayer in tribulation, prayed by us today, should lift us up and be optimistic. It will do us well to pray and reflect often on this concluding quote from St.Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians 4:7-11 The Paradox of the Ministry.
But we hold this treasure in earthen vessels that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
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