22nd Sunday in ordinary Time (September 3, 2017)
A curious duo of people talking back to god forms the vehicle for today’s message in this turning point of Matthew’s gospel.
Jeremiah was a young man with plans of his own; he wanted a career, a wife and family, a few good friends and some comforts. But, God called him to be a prophet. After fifty years he had so little to show for his effort: a few converts, only one disciple, many enemies. His family thought he was nuts, and the king wanted him dead.
Jeremiah was angry with God. Pashhur, chief officer of the Jerusalem temple had Jeremiah arrested and flogged. He was put in stocks overnight for proclaiming that the city would be destroyed for its lack of faith.
Jeremiah complains that God duped him. God’s call was somehow seductive. Jeremiah had determined to play it cool, not to speak the word of God. Now, he had done it and look what it cost him.
Centuries later, peter was shocked at Jesus’ speaking of being killed in Jerusalem. Peter had hoped that Jesus was to usher in the new kingdom, and that the disciples would be able to cash in on the victory -- like venture capitalists striking it rich on an investment of limited risks with their career change.
Jesus, a few moments earlier, called Peter the rock on which he would build his church. Then, Peter heard Jesus - almost in the next breath - foretell that he would die. Peter did not want to hear that.
Here is how Peter stands in god’s way. He makes far too many assumptions about god’s values -- one of humanity’s favorite maneuvers, if you think about it. Peter doesn’t like to suffer, so he can’t imagine that God might make use of human suffering for divine ends.
Jesus called Peter a stumbling block. He told him to get out of his face, to get behind him -- where a disciple belongs. Following the master is not standing in front, directing him. Jesus makes it clear that being faithful to God implies that personal plans and feelings do not count when they conflict with God’s will. He spoke elsewhere of the grain of wheat that has to fall into the ground and die before it can have new life, reach its potential.
Great Catholic-Christian heroes and heroines like Cesar Chavez, Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa, Oscar Romero have lived this truth publicly and courageously in the past 50 years in extraordinary ways.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of building the kingdom, in more ordinary ways. Yet, we are an essential part of the evolution of the kingdom. There is a sense of liberation in realizing that. We are Minor Prophets in the magnificent enterprise.
Paul gets the final word today. Each generation is at risk of conforming to the present age. The present age is always passing, trapped in history and limited by the nearsightedness of us finite creatures. It is fashionable, today, to be “practical,” and see right and wrong identified with convenience:
- Worshiping God every weekend is inconvenient;
- Having a child instead of an abortion is sometimes very inconvenient.
When the calling of God is difficult, saints do not quit. What parent of small children has not fantasized about the day the children are grown, or perhaps even considered running away from the demands of parenthood? Exhausted as one might be, one returns to the family each day. Love and loyalty burn like a passionate fire in one’s heart.
What worker or spouse with a difficult situation of emotional or physical illness does not consider quitting when the person he or she works so hard to heal slides back into depression or addiction or worse disease. Yet, next day you are back on the job. Why not find something/someone easier to deal with? Because, yours is a calling that burns like a fire in your gut.
In the end, only those who answer that call change the world: to service, to sacrifice, to deny oneself for the greater good, for the glory of God. Jeremiah’s acceptance of his mission and Jesus’ acceptance of his mission are today’s examples of courage for us to continue living our “yes,” our acceptance of our mission: to stay the course.