Sunday Sermon for September 3, 2017, the Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary time, Year A
Readings: Jer 20:7-9; Rom 12:1-2; Mt 16:21-27
The first line of the first reading today is one of my favorites in all of Scripture: “You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped.” When people feel drawn to do something for the Lord, it is fairly typical that their minds are filled with romantic ideas of how wonderful this will be. While they will be rudely snapped out of their daydream in fairly short order, initially the ideas of rejection and suffering are the last things in their imaginations.
Part of this fairy tale is due to the idea that since this work is being done for the Lord, that He will remove all obstacles. Another aspect of this is the idea that since God is “nice” that He would not allow anything bad to happen. I am never sure why people would have these ideas since, as we see in the Gospel reading today, our Lord made it absolutely clear that anyone who would come after Him must take up his cross, deny himself, and follow Him. Where do we follow? A couple lines prior to this one says the Son of man must suffer greatly, be killed, and on the third day be raised.
In other words, there is a cost to discipleship! Jesus says that if we lose our life for His sake, then we will find our life. While this can imply martyrdom, it is something that must be applied to all of us in our day to day life with the understanding that we must die to ourselves in order to live in Him and for Him. St. Paul says it very bluntly: “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.”
When people hear this kind of message they might wonder what kind of God we worship if He would require such things. Others might simply turn on their heels and walk away from God. Some might even think about the various false gods to whom people offered human sacrifice and put God into that same category. Nothing could be further from the truth! Satan, under whatever moniker one wishes to worship him, will always require human sacrifice. If someone is unwilling to go that far, the vile creature will settle for less, but there will always be a cost required.
You might say that taking up one’s cross, dying to self, and offering one’s body as a living sacrifice certainly constitute a pretty severe cost. While the sacrifice is indeed large, the cost is not. God is not asking that we give up something of our own or even our own self just because it is required or just to appease Him. No, God is asking for love. When you love someone, you are willing to sacrifice anything for that person and you pay no attention to the cost. If you do not love the person, a small cost might seem too steep.
Consider the example of parents. They sacrifice a huge amount for their children: time, money, material goods, vacations, personal preferences, and so on. A mother sacrifices her body for her child. If something was wrong with their child, most parents would not hesitate to undergo transplant surgery or risk their own life to save the life of the child. Do they whine and complain about all of this? No! In fact, there is not a question in their minds. More than that, they would do it all again and more, if necessary. Why? Because they love their child so much that they are willing to die to self for the sake of the child and even to offer their bodies for the sake of the child.
This is what God is looking for. It is also what He has already done for us. He could have just declared our sins forgiven and it would have been done. Instead, He died to self, took a human nature, and offered His body as a living sacrifice. All of this was done simply because He loves us so much. If it were necessary, He would do it all again and more, if it was needed. Since that is not necessary, He continues to sacrifice Himself for us at every Mass and offers His entire Person to us as a living sacrifice in the Eucharist.
So, the trials God allows are to purify our intentions of anything proud or selfish. Asking for the offering of our lives is only asking that we would love Him. If we do not serve God, we will serve someone else who will exact sacrifice from us. God exacts nothing, but calls us to love and to act in love. God does not dupe us; He showed us what it means to love and asks that we will love as we have been loved.
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