Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Jeremiah 20:7-9; Psalm 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9; Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 16:21-27
Jeremiah was a special case — or can that be said of any prophet, Old or New Testament. Probably no more than a teenager when God called him to take on the burden of prophecy. He did not want this job. He told God immediately, “I don’t know how to talk. I’m just a kid.” The Lord would not let up, “Don’t tell me you are just a kid. You will go where I send you, and you will speak what I tell you to speak. Do not be afraid of them, because I am with you to deliver you.” If Jeremiah had known what sufferings he would have to endure in his prophetic ministry, he might have objected even more strongly. He was not allowed to marry, no dates. The men of his hometown rejected his ministry and threatened to kill him if he spoke the word of the Lord to them. An acquaintance with some of Jeremiah’s deeds commanded by the Lord, must elicit sympathy for this young man. The Lord God was no easy taskmaster, when it came to commanding strange audiovisual rituals. See for example the weird case of Jeremiah’s underwear in Jeremiah 13:1-11. He had good days and bad days, but the latter seem to predominate. It must have been a good day when Jeremiah said, “I found your words. I consumed them, and they became the joy of my heart,” 15:16.
In today’s first reading the prophet is definitely having a bad day. “You deceived me, Lord, but I let myself be deceived. You were too strong for me and so you won. I am an object of ridicule. Everyone mocks me. When I speak, I have to yell about violence and outrage. The word of the Lord, (of which he had spoken so lovingly, see above paragraph), has brought me derision and reproach all day long.” Jeremiah tries to forget about his vocation, but his conscience will not let him. “If I say to myself that will I not mention him (the Lord), nor speak his name again, it (his burden of prophecy) becomes like fire in my heart imprisoned in my bones. I get tired holding it in. I cannot endure it.” What anguish Jeremiah must have experienced as he struggled to carry the burden the Lord placed upon him. He lived through tragedy after tragedy, including his eye-witness experience of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple of the Lord by the Babylonian army in 587 B.C. In 582 B.C., against his will and against the message he received from the Lord, a group of Jews who refused to live under Babylonian authority took him and his secretary Baruch with them into exile in Egypt. Nothing more is known. There is no obvious theme this reading has in common with the gospel reading, except perhaps that Simon Peter in today’s gospel was also having a bad day.
The Responsorial Psalm 63 something in common with Jeremiah’s woes at least in the words of the first verse, “. . . for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.” The rest of the response is upbeat, “Your kindness is a greater good than life. My lips will glorify you. As with the riches of a banquet shall my soul be satisfied. My soul clings fast to you. Your right hand upholds me.” A needed joyful response to Jeremiah’s heartbreak!
Last Sunday, in a superb act of faith, Paul ended a three-chapter dialogue with himself on the question of his nation’s rejection of Jesus as their Messiah. In today’s second reading he begins the exhortation part of the Letter to the Romans. In an implicit comparison with animals sacrificed in the temple, Paul writes, “I urge you . . . to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice holy and pleasing to God.” This he calls “your spiritual worship.” How appropriate his thought for our time, “Do not conform yourselves to this age, . . . that you may discern what is the will of God.”
In last Sunday’s gospel we witnessed the exaltation of Simon Peter, “You are Peter (the Rock), and upon this Rock I will build my Church. I will give you the keys, etc.” In today’s gospel we witness the opposite — his censure. As the gospel reading begins, Jesus reveals to his disciples the horrors that await him in Jerusalem — bad news except at the end, “on the third day be resurrected.” Peter’s exaltation has gone to his head. He dares to step out of line, which was behind Jesus. He takes Jesus aside and rebukes him for what he had just revealed about his approaching suffering, death and resurrection. The suffering and death of their leader is not what Peter envisioned for the future. Now that he was #2 behind Jesus, he expected to share power with him, perhaps as the master of the royal palace (prime minister), when Jesus establishes his kingdom in Jerusalem. As to Jesus’ revelation about his resurrection, Peter knew of a resurrection of the righteous and their reward as described in Daniel 12:2-3. To him this talk of suffering and death was nonsense for the future King of the Jews in Jerusalem, as he envisioned the future. Jesus vehemently rejects Peter’s rebuke in language reminiscent of his rebuke of Satan in Matthew’s temptation of Jesus episode. “Get behind me, Satan! You are a scandal to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as humankind does.” The Rock has been crushed! The man just appointed to lead had to learn that he leads not instead of Jesus but only as his Vicar to carry out his policies.
Jesus outlines what it means to be a leader of his community, the Church. No coronation, just service, ministry, a burden, a cross. Whoever wishes to come after me, (behind me — which Peter had ignored), must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me” (to the cross!). A significant statement considering the manner of Peter’s death — on a cross. See John 21:18-19. The theme of martyrdom for Jesus’ disciples continues, “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Jesus’ next saying strikes directly at the worldly ambition of his disciples, expecting to gain power and wealth in Jesus’ envisioned political kingdom, “What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world yet forfeit his life? Or what can a man give in exchange for his life?” A final warning for those who are not in line with Jesus’ policies, “The Son of Man (Jesus) will come . . . in glory and repay all according to conduct.”