My wife and I have been married now for thirteen years. We have four amazing children and a wonderful community of friends and family. Life isn’t half-bad these days. Prior to the relationship with my now wife Erin, though, I was engaged to someone else. This other girl and I dated for just a few months before getting engaged. The wedding planning started immediately and was nearly a complete blur to me. Our relationship as a couple was lost in the insanity. Besides the requisite visits with the priest and a family planning class or two, we almost never stopped to focus on us. We failed to use that period of engagement as a time to prepare for life AFTER the wedding. The wedding prep was going so fast, in fact, that I couldn’t see any of the warning signs and red flags. She and I had significant differences of philosophy regarding a number of important issues. When I finally realized that we were not meant to be together, the wedding was just under five months away. The ring had been bought. The invitations had been bought. The reception hall had been reserved and held with a deposit. Things were starting to get real. Over time, though, through prayer, reflection, time with friends, and my own observations, I came to discover that I had no choice but to break it off. I knew she wasn’t the one for me. I just knew. While I won’t go into detail, it suffices to say that the night I ended that relationship was one of the most difficult nights of my life. I knew in my heart that I was right and that we would both be ok, but it didn’t make saying those words (or hearing them, I’m sure) any less difficult and painful.
If there is a thread running through the readings this Sunday, it’s this: Being a bringer of truth will lead to struggle, persecution ,and (in some cases) even death. Jesus, however, has been there. Jesus understands what you’re feeling and does not leave us alone. EVER.
In the first reading, we hear about Jeremiah being thrown in a big muddy cistern for being God’s messenger and making the king’s servants uncomfortable. He is stuck in the mud and will likely starve to death unless someone comes to help him. Eventually, the king has mercy on Jeremiah and orders servants to save him. Since the responsorial psalm is meant to be the people’s response to the first reading, it should come as no surprise that our psalm celebrates the fact that God can and will help us in our time of need. The second reading is a rallying cry for us Christians. It’s a reminder that Jesus endured the Cross for us so that we could do the work of the Gospel with joy and without fear. Even if we are thrown “into a cistern”, metaphorically or otherwise, our God is there with us, giving us what we need for the work we are called to do.
This brings us to the Gospel. Be sure to read through these words a few times. This is Jesus at his most intense. Jesus knows that if His teachings are shared without modification, they will be a source of tension and division, pitting friends and family members against one another. How can they not be? If you have a loved one actively (if not unknowingly) courting evil, Jesus’ teachings, dripping with truth and righteousness, are bound to feel like ‘fire’. It isn’t that Jesus wishes us bitterness, pain, and hurt feelings. Jesus is simply using this type of language to let his disciples know what they’re up against, what it truly means to be a Christian disciple…it means the cross, in one way or another, for all of us.
Even though calling off that first engagement was painful, I knew that God was with me. My now ex-fiancee knew it too. God’s presence didn’t mean escaping the death we were experiencing. It meant we were not alone. As we died WITH Christ in that small way, we knew we would rise WITH Christ again, as new creations. So will you. Trust God.