Sunday Sermon for August 28, 2011, 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 we hear one of my favorite lines in all of Scripture: “You duped me Lord, and I allowed myself to be duped.” Jeremiah cries out in anguish to the Lord as he realizes that ever since he took up the prophetic call his life was marked by hatred, ridicule and rejection. What appeared at first as the greatest privilege in the world now appeared to be a disaster for Jeremiah.
The Prophet determines no longer to speak the Word of God, but then it burns in his heart and he cannot contain it. It seems to him that he has no control over his own life. We have to recall that years earlier the Lord told the Prophet that he would have to go out and preach, but the people would not listen to him. Imagine the agony of knowing that you are preaching the truth, but everyone around you rejects it and wants to kill you for having preached it. That, in a nutshell, is the life of Jeremiah.
Perhaps we have had similar experiences. The Lord has called us; there is no greater privilege in the world. However, if we are going to take His call seriously, we can no longer live like those who do not know the Lord. The goal of the Christian life is not merely to believe in Jesus, but to become like Him in all things.
We see the struggle St. Peter had in accepting this concept when he told our Lord that He should not have to suffer and die. Jesus takes the opportunity to tell His Apostles and, by extension, us and all others who would believe in Him, that if we are going to come after Him we have to take up our cross and follow in His footsteps.
We have all heard these words hundreds of times, but for most of us they go in one ear and out the other. The Cross of Jesus was not metaphorical; it was real. When He tells us that we will have to take up our cross and follow Him, He is not speaking in flowery, poetic language; He is speaking the truth clearly and simply. Perhaps it is so simple that we pay it little attention.
St. Paul, in the second reading, tells the Romans that they have to offer their bodies as a living sacrifice to the Lord. In order to do this, he instructs the people not to conform themselves to this world, but to be transformed by a renewal of their minds so that they will know what is good, perfect and pleasing. St. Paul wrote these words only after the immense sufferings he endured for the Lord. He could give these instructions because He lived it himself. What a blessing to know that we are not being asked to do something he was unwilling to do. Of course, this same thing can be said for Jesus.
Jesus asks the question that has rung down through the ages: what profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? If this was a question He could ask 2000 years ago in Palestine, it is all the more fitting today in our modern culture. People today are marked by selfishness, greed, pleasure seeking, and anything else that fuels pride and gratification. Anyone who tries to live even a small part of the Gospel will be ridiculed. If we strive to be Saints, we will be considered insane and rejected, locked up or killed. Because of this, most people do not want to live the Gospel message; they do not want to be conformed to Jesus.
Unlike Jeremiah, we cannot say that we have been duped. Our Lord make it perfectly clear what would be required of those who come after Him. Like Jeremiah, anyone who tries to transform himself through a renewal of his mind knows inherently that he is going to be lonely on the natural level. Most people do not want to be around someone who puts God and His will first.
The fact that others do not like it does not excuse us from living what we promised on the day of our baptism. The loneliness, the rejections and the sufferings can lead us to think that following Jesus is a mistake. Since we are called to continue His work, it is only a mistake if we believe that what He did to save our souls was a mistake. It was, indeed, horrible, but it was perfect and it was an act of love. How much do we love God and neighbor? Enough to be rejected and ridiculed? Enough to be transformed by the renewal of our minds? We have not been duped; it is our call and our privilege.
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.