Sunday Sermon for August 30, 2020, the Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Readings: Jer 20:7-9; Rom 12:1-2; Mt 16:21-27
In the first reading today the Prophet Jeremiah, feeling somewhat crushed by his interior struggles, cries out to the Lord: “You duped my Lord, and I allowed myself to be duped.” He goes on to talk about how he is mocked and reviled and how he has to preach a message the people do not want to hear. We have to ask ourselves: “Does God really dupe us?”
Recall when St. John is given a scroll by the angel and told to eat it; the scroll was sweet to the taste but became sour in his stomach. The Word of God is truth, it is sweet, it is beautiful. However, the Word of God cuts more surely than a two-edged sword. The only way the Word of God will remain sweet to us is if we truly desire to conform our lives to that Word. Of course, we need to remind ourselves that the Word of God is not only that which is written in the Bible, but the Word became flesh in the Person of Jesus.
Jesus told us very clearly that we have to calculate the cost of a project before we begin to make sure we will be able to complete the project. He made clear that if they hate Him, they will hate us. In today’s Gospel reading He tells us that we must deny ourselves, take up our Cross, and follow Him. He tells us that if we want to save our life, we must first lose it for His sake. He told us that if we love anyone more than Him we are not worthy of Him.
This is not anything novel that began with the New Testament. Sirach, the wise man from the Old Testament, instructs us that anyone who is going to serve the Lord must prepare himself for trials. Judith speaks to the people of old about the trials their ancestors endured and why God allowed them. Consider Abraham, Moses, David, the Prophets, and even the ordinary Jewish people who were martyred, went into exile, and suffered in so many ways. In case we had missed it, most every book in the New Testament speaks about the suffering we will have to endure because we are followers of Jesus.
So, did God dupe us? No, just as we read in the Gospel today, Jesus told His Apostles the truth, but what He told them did not square with their preconceived ideas about the Messiah. When Jesus told them He was going to Jerusalem to be handed over, killed, and raised on the third day, Peter actually took Jesus aside and rebuked Him. Peter could not understand how God could allow such a thing. Jesus responds to Peter’s rebuke by telling him he was thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.
Needless to say, it is natural for us to think in human terms, but to think as God does requires a lot of purification. We have to learn to think in a way that is supernatural which will require dying to what is natural to us and conforming ourselves to God’s way of thinking. Of course, this normally occurs only when, like Jeremiah, we set out to do what our Lord has called us to do and things do not go the way we thought they would or should. Sadly, for some of us, it requires many, many occasions before we learn this lesson.
St. Paul, who, like the rest of us, had to learn this the hard way, instructs us in the second reading not to conform ourselves to this age, but to be transformed by a renewal of our mind. This renewal, he says, will allow us to discern what is the will of God and, in so discerning, we will find what is truly good, pleasing, and perfect. Our natural way of thinking tends toward focusing on our own self and using our own wants and desires as the point of reference. In so doing, we see what we think to be good, what is pleasing to us, what we consider prefect.
Conforming ourselves to God’s way of thinking will help us to see not only what I consider good for me, but what is best for everyone. The focus becomes loving God and neighbor rather than self-love. With time, we begin to understand the necessity of suffering and we experience the good God brings from it.
God does not dupe us; we dupe ourselves. We assume that if we are going to do what God is asking, everything will be smooth and wonderful. Like Jeremiah, we get confused when things don’t go the way we thought they should. Don’t be duped: reject the “wisdom” of this age and be transformed by the renewal of your mind.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.