Today’s readings reflect on our LORD’s approach to violence and its role to our faith. We hear in the first reading the unfortunate fate of the prophet Jeremiah under King Zedekiah, wherein he was thrown “into the cistern of Prince Malchiah” and drowned into the “mud”. Why was Jeremiah thrown out and led into such terror? Because he was “demoralizing the soldiers” in his city and “is not interested in the welfare of our people”. Or so the princes thought.
Throughout the book of Jeremiah, the prophet has been preaching repentance in response to the wrath of God to His people, for they have turned away from His “covenant”. And the people did not listen. Even more so, they thought he is causing strife among many because of his words, words that were unpleasant to hear. How common is it for us to be uncomfortable hearing the words we need to but do not like to hear? When we hear things we do not like to hear, we shut the person down. It affirms the adage, “the Truth hurts”. Yet, it also affirms another, “the Truth shall set you free”.
Freedom is not free. Historically, we view it as something that is earned. The Israelites earned it after their bondage from Egypt; African-Americans earned it, legally, after the 1865; nations have earned it through blood and swords and discrimination of the pen against imperial control. But very too often, freedom is earned through violence—violence incurred against ourselves. Our ego. True freedom is experienced not by just being free from something but being free to live for something.
This is the freedom that Jeremiah preaches to his people, a freedom that the LORD wants us to experience. But the people during Jeremiah’s time resisted it. By choosing to take down the life of the prophet, the people and princes of his time chose to keep the spiritual shackles that keep them enslaved from sin. Instead, Jeremiah took upon the pain himself, the pain involved in turning our hearts from ego to the will of the LORD. A degree of pain is too often an inherent part of our growth: the body has to go through the stress of workout in order to be healthy; the mind has to go through the stress of discipline in order to be healthy; and, likewise, the spirit has to go through the stress of repentance to be healthy. All of these process are a lifetime pursuit.
The reality is that pain is part of our human life and, therefore, we can never escape from it. We are only to realize that we have a great reason to embrace it. That reason is that our LORD has gone through a similar that has plagued our humanity for thousands of years. He “endured the cross”, despised its “shame” – embraced, in other words – and earned the right of the throne of God, as St. Paul proclaims.
The Militant Atheist movement has argued about the violence of the LORD as a reason to justify disbelief in Him. It is true that our LORD is violent, but His violence ought to console us in believing in Him. We are only to gaze and meditate upon the crucifix to see the LORD’s approach to violence.
For our LORD, violence is meant not to inflict to others but to our ego. Only by inflicting violence to our sinful ego can we be charitable to others. Because of our limitations as a result of our sinful nature, however, we can never bend ourselves to do such a thing out of our own will. We need someone to drive us it, a kind of fire to set us against the turn of our own currents.
And so here we come to the Gospel. The Creator of the World, upon coming into His own and witnessing it ruined by sin, declares, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” He sets the world on fire, not to destroy, but to have his creation be consumed by His desire to change the world. In order to do that, it has to start within – within our hearts. As the narrative of Jeremiah that we hear in the first reading points out, change comes with a price. The prophet called for a change within the hearts of the people. And what did he get out of it? Violence. When we call for authentic change, we disrupt the status quo of human affairs shaped by Sin. Our Blessed LORD knew very well how difficult this message is, and that is why He was the first to admit that His saving message will cause division rather than peace. Oh, how beautifully paradoxical our Christian faith is! Authentic violence is the way to true peace, for when we go against our selfishness, we express love at its best to others. Experiencing the most awful shame of the cross is the way to an encounter with the glorious moment of our humanity: redemption.
And so let us pray, that the LORD may continue to shower us with that fire required of us to make a genuine change in our lives and the grace of wisdom and humility to understand and accept this challenge from our LORD.