At the end of his magisterial survey of the quest of the historical Jesus in the 19th century, Albert Schweitzer recalled Jesus’ command to every Christian to follow him, and added, "to those who obey him, whether they be wise or simple, he will reveal himself in the toils, in the conflicts, the sufferings which they pass through in his fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience who he is." Today’s readings remind us that every Eucharist is not simply a celebration of community with the risen Christ and with other believers; it is a recollection of Jesus’ baptism (immersion) into suffering and death, and the anguish it caused him. Jesus, the prophet of God’s reign, stands in the legacy of Jeremiah, who was thrown down a well and left to die, only to be rejected again and ultimately die in exile.
Given Luke’s emphasis on peace as the gift that Jesus brings (1:79; 2:14; 19:38), we are shocked when Jesus shouts that he has come not to bring peace on earth but division, splitting even families apart. This harshness has a precedent in the vocation of Old Testament prophets, who were distinguished from those false prophets who supported unjust kings and structures by proclaiming peace and prosperity. Jeremiah states twice, "They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, 'Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace" (6:14; 8:10-12), and Ezekiel compares false prophetic messages of peace to covering a wall with whitewash (13:10). The division Jesus brings reflects the cost of following God’s word experienced by Jeremiah, whose life was so marked by suffering and opposition that he cursed the day he was born (20:14).
These readings remind us that the church needs prophets and cautions prophets that their course will not be easy. There seems to be a premium today on false peace, and the great American virtue seems to be not to cause anyone pain, or at least to feel another’s pain. Yet Christians today may cause pain, since they share through their baptisms the prophetic charism to speak God’s word, no matter how unpopular, and to give a voice to those who have no one to speak for them—which often stirs up opposition. I know young people who feel that God calls them to a way of life and a level of discipleship that creates alienation from family and other beloved ones. These are the hidden prophets of our day, who follow Christ as "the leader and perfecter of faith," and I pray that they "may not grow weary and lose heart" (Heb. 12:2-3). Schweitzer said it well: "In their own experience they shall learn who he is."