Twenty-second Sunday of the Year. Jer 20:7-9; Ps 63; Rm 12:1-2; Mt 16:21-27
‘You have seduced me Lord, and I have let myself be seduced; you have overpowered me: you were the stronger. I am a daily laughing stock, everybody’s butt.”
The prophet Jeremiah’s lament is a forceful reminder that God’s call frequently takes us in unwelcome and even unexpected directions. Jeremiah undoubtedly looked back to the initial enthusiasm of his commitment to the prophetic office. Perhaps he had expected that his words would make a difference. The reality that he encountered was radically different. Far from responding to Jeremiah’s call to repentance, the people rejected him with daily insult and derision. It is very difficult to persevere with a message at odds with the crowd.
Jeremiah had become the conscience of Israel. He longed to shrug off the burden, to be accepted again among friends and family. He therefore resolved no longer to speak in the name of the God of Israel.
In less dramatic ways we are brought to realise the cost of discipleship. We rejoice in the calling of our baptism, and yet, with Jeremiah, it is inevitable that such a calling will create unwelcome tensions in our lives.
Jeremiah was made to feel a laughing stock. Many elements in today’s society ridicule faith in any form. Some are openly hostile. The temptation is to hide in the background and, if not to abandon our convictions, to keep them well hidden.
Jeremiah returned to the ground of his faith. “Then there seemed to be a fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones. The effort to restrain it wearied me, I could not bear it.”
There will be many times when attacks on fundamental Gospel values leave us feeling exposed and vulnerable. Such feelings cannot be resolved by debate alone. At such times prayer puts us in touch with our communion with God, what Jeremiah described as a fire imprisoned within his bones. It is the strength of that communion that gives strength to our witness.
Peter’s declaration of faith, establishing him as the rock on which Christ would found his Church, was followed by an unexpected development. Jesus immediately declared that he was to suffer grievously, to be handed over and to die. Peter remonstrated: “This must not happen to you.” The reaction of Jesus seems, at first sight, extreme: “Get behind me Satan, the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.”
Sinful humanity seeks its own security, clinging to control of its own life. Faith surrenders its life to God, allowing him alone to become our security. “Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.” Difficult though these words seem, they are our only lasting freedom.
Without them we remain forever the prisoners of our own fears and insecurities.
As he did with Peter and Jeremiah, the Lord calls us to himself, allowing us to stand firm in a changing world.
In the words of St Paul: “Do not model yourselves on the behaviour of the world around you, but let your behaviour be modelled on your new mind.”