Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
First reading: Jer 38:4-6, 8-10
Responsorial Psalm: 40:2-4, 18
Second reading: Heb 12:1-4
Gospel: Lk 12:49-53
By Kevin Perrotta
For the times when it’s hard to do the right thing, the author of today’s second reading makes a suggestion. Keep looking at Jesus, he says.
Thinking about how Jesus refused to give in to those who opposed his message, even though that meant his death, can help us get through the moments when we need to stand against the internal opposition we feel to staying on the path of responsible and loving behavior.
But the author would like us to pay attention not only to Jesus’ actions but also to the way he handled the situation he faced. In addition to being atrociously painful, crucifixion was degrading. The victim, stripped of his clothing, hung in public view, an object of contempt and horror.
Jesus, the author tells us, “despised” this shame. He disregarded the humiliation the way parents might disregard the impoverishment they would suffer from covering the legal expenses of a child accused of a crime.
The author tells us Jesus considered the humiliation of the cross as nothing in comparison to the joy he would experience on the far side of his sacrifice. It was not that his suffering itself was joy.
The author tells us earlier in his letter that Jesus pleaded with the Father “with loud cries and tears” to be rescued from this suffering. Rather, the joy Jesus knew he would experience after his death, in resurrection, motivated him to move forward in God’s plan, painful as it was.
Here we get a glimpse of Jesus’ motivational structure and, perhaps surprisingly, it is entirely human. He did the right thing, although it was incredibly hard, because he looked forward to the happiness that lay beyond it.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus himself speaks of his approach to his mission. “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!”
Jesus very much wanted to see his ministry succeed. He felt an inner torment that would be relieved only by finishing what he had set out to do.
Far from being an unperturbable stoic gliding smoothly toward his goal, Jesus experienced profound emotions. His determination to fulfill God’s plans was grounded in deep and powerful human feelings.
We should, indeed, keep our eyes on him.
Perrotta is the editor and an author of the “Six Weeks With the Bible” series, teaches part time at Siena Heights University and leads Holy Land pilgrimages. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.