TWENTY-SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2020)
Readings:Jeremiah 20:7-9Psalms 63:2-6, 8-9Romans 12:1-2Matthew 16:21-27
As the famous radio broadcaster Paul Harvey would say, “and now for the rest of the story.” Today’s gospel is a continuation of last weekend’s gospel, in which the senior apostle Peter shines brightly as the only one to answer Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” Answering, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Peter is lauded, and told “no mere man has revealed this to you.” Peter doesn’t fare as well in this weekend’s gospel, but we have to give him credit for impetuously speaking what was on his mind, even if it gets the “Christ, Son of the living God” upset.
Jesus is always trying to get His listeners, apostles and crowds alike, to stretch their minds and see things in a new way. While Jesus is seen in the gospel of Matthew as the “new Moses,” the long awaited Messiah, He is also continually redefining what Messiahship is all about. The masses wanted a Messiah who would right the wrongs of society, give the occupying Romans their due, and place the Jewish people back on the top of the list. It surely was clear to the apostles that Jesus possessed powers that they could not fully understand, as evidenced by His healing miracles and the feeding of the 5,000+ people, and Jesus’ tensions with the Scribes and the Pharisees surely hinted to the disciples that He was not your traditional Messiah. Further, Jesus’ inclusive effort to touch the lives of Jews and pagans alike, no doubt made Jesus appear less messianic to many. What Jesus would say to the disciples in this week’s gospel, however, would begin a theme of connecting messiahship with suffering and death, and for some this was terribly unpalatable.
The gospel for Sunday recounts Jesus’ first prediction of His Passion and death; it won’t be His last. “Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.” It’s clear that Peter never heard, or didn’t understand, the “be raised” part. Peter bravely protests (curious given his future denial in Jerusalem), taking Jesus aside and “rebuking Him.” Peter states, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing will ever happen to you.” Peter’s protest spawns a harsh rebuke by Jesus: “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
Peter cannot imagine a Messiah that would allow himself to be killed. His mind cannot grasp where Jesus is trying to lead him. Hints of suffering connected to the doing of God’s will are given to us in our first reading from Jeremiah. Jeremiah feels “duped.” God called him to be a prophet, but he didn’t think it involved him being an “object of laughter,” or the subject of mocking! He learns the hard way that doing God’s will involves suffering, and Jesus takes that same thought, raising it to the very surrender of His life. Jesus will, as Romans tells us, offer His own body “as a living sacrifice,” and in doing so will help people to recognize “what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”
Jesus is clear, that whoever wishes to come after Him “must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow” Jesus. Indeed, it is the lesson of all three readings. Jeremiah, Jesus, and Paul, like all prophets and those chosen to follow Jesus, confront the injustices of their day with bold action, in spite of the actual cost of discipleship, in spite of the sufferings and challenges that are the byproduct of being prophetic. Peter and the disciples will learn this lesson, even if it will take the descent of God’s Spirit to make it clear. Injustices have plagued human kind for eons, “leaving,” says Sr. Mary McGlone, “the web of life tattered, torn and tottering on the threshold of extinction.” A prophet, Sr. McGlone says, is uncomfortable, “forever yearning, pining and thirsting for the One whose Spirit provides strength, purpose and sustenance when the work of justice leaves our bones wearied and our hearts broken.” We are all meant to be prophets, men and women who are fully open to the Spirit, and we embrace the crosses that come our way, all the while challenging the political, social, cultural and religious structures and attitudes of our own day, just as Jesus did.
And so we humbly ask God, “Take my hands and lead me. It is you who have put the desire to follow you into my heart. It is to you that I turn when the cross you have chosen for me seems too heavy. It is to you I look when, bruised and bleeding, I cannot walk any more. Here I am, O Most Holy Trinity—in my nothingness and unworthiness, your fool, your child—yours to do with as you please. I need your help; alone I cannot do anything. I love you. I adore you.” [Servant of God Catherine de Hueck Doherty]