BEFORE THE CROSS | Faith in God prepares us for when things get worse
It's going to get worse before it gets better.
That's one of the central messages of readings this week — and maybe a good lesson for us.
We start with the prophet Jeremiah, after the first wave of the Babylonian Exile in 597 BC. The false prophet Hananiah says: Within two years God will break the yoke of the king of Babylon, and Jerusalem will be restored. In short, he's saying: "Things are about to get better."
But God spoke to the prophet Jeremiah and told him to announce a different message to the people: Things are going to get worse before they get better. And that's exactly what happened.
A group of Jews sought an alliance with Egypt and started a revolt against Babylon. But the revolt was brutally crushed. As a result, in 587 BC the King of Babylon destroyed Jerusalem, sealing and deepening the Exile. Hananiah's words proved false; Jeremiah's words proved true.
The Gospels reinforce the same line of thinking. After a series of episodes in which Jesus reveals His divinity through miracles (feeding the 5,000, walking on water, etc.), Peter identifies Jesus as the Christ. As soon as Peter does so, Jesus reveals that things are going to get worse before they get better. He will go to Jerusalem to suffer and be killed. And His disciples have to take up their cross and follow Him.
Jesus was showing them the miracles to deepen their awareness of His identity as the Son of God. He wanted to secure their faith in Him so they would have the strength to bear the truth of the Cross — His and theirs. That's a lesson for us, too.
When does it start to get better?
Just a few chapters after denouncing Hananiah as a false prophet, Jeremiah follows his message of doom with one of the most beautiful passages in the Old Testament. God promises the exiles a new covenant. When He made the first covenant with Israel, after the Exodus, He wrote it on tablets of stone. This time, after the Exile, He says, "I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts." Israel will have to live through the Exile, but better times will follow.
We see the same pattern with Jesus. He'll go to Jerusalem to suffer and be killed – His personal Exile. But He'll rise in glory, never to die again. He'll go through his passion and death to the resurrection.
Like a woman in labor, things will get better, and gloriously so. But first, it's going to get worse.
This pattern is as old as the history of ancient Israel, as new as the child born yesterday, and as relevant as headlines today. When Jesus tells us to take up our cross and follow Him, He invites us to live into this pattern. Faith in Him gives us the strength to do so.
This week the word of the Lord tells us: It's going to get worse before it gets better. Let's ask for a deeper faith in Jesus, and respond as we always do: Thanks be to God!
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