Thursday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time
A frustrated Illinois state official named James Shields once challenged Abraham Lincoln to a duel. Lincoln had criticized Shields in a local newspaper, and the latter felt he had to defend his honor. Having the right to choose the dueling weapons, Lincoln called for cavalry swords thinking he might intimidate his diminutive opponent before the duel began. Besides, Lincoln knew that there was less possibility of either being killed with sabers than with pistols. The strategy worked. When Shields realized that he had little chance of prevailing over the six foot four inch Lincoln, he accepted the future president’s explanation that the criticism was never meant to defame the state official’s character.
In today’s gospel Jesus is challenged to a duel of sorts. The Pharisees tell Jesus that Herod wants to kill him. No doubt Herod resents Jesus because he, like John the Baptist, preaches repentance and reform. We can easily imagine that Jesus would like to confront Herod. John was Jesus’ kinsman and probable mentor whom Herod has murdered with impunity. Evidently Jesus does not fear Herod since he mentions that he will accomplish his purpose. But, unlike Lincoln, he does not allow himself to be embroiled in a duel. His rule is always to do his Father’s will and not his own. Jesus knows that God is leading him away from Herod’s territory to Jerusalem where he will give his life for the world’s salvation.
Abraham Lincoln shows us how to use our wits to save face and perhaps life when challenged. But Jesus gives a more valuable lesson. He exemplifies subservience to God’s will as we face life’s challenges. No matter how great our desire to react, no matter how much of our ego or self-image is on line, we must follow the Lord’s, not our own, will. More than that even, Jesus’ action in this passage points to God’s love for us. He leads His son into the hands of his worse enemies so that we might inherit eternal life.