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The 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 3, 2017


     You couldn’t exactly call today’s scriptures light summer reading.  They come closer to Hamlet than to Much Ado About Nothing!  The Church doesn’t seem to care that it’s the Labor Day weekend and we’re trying to savor the last bit of vacation.  But there is no vacation from the gospel; no vacation from following Jesus.

     Jeremiah sets the tone today.  His words border on blasphemy.  He pulls no punches when he tells God, “You duped me, Lord, and I let myself be duped.”  No tip-toeing around there!  And who can blame Jeremiah?  His call from God came when he was in the womb.  Later, as a young man, he was given a message to deliver – a message no one wanted to hear, a message that turned everyone against him -- made his life one long tale of woe: of opposition, arrest, imprisonment, and public disgrace.  No wonder he felt “duped,” no wonder he cried out, ‘enough!  I’ve had it with speaking in your name, Lord!’

     But Jeremiah went on speaking in spite of himself.  God’s word was a fire burning within him and, try as he might, he couldn’t contain the fire.  Talk about a no-win situation.  If he didn’t speak God’s word it consumed him from within like a fire, and if he did – and when he did -- it only got him into trouble.

     We should be able to identify with Jeremiah.  If we take our faith at all seriously, if we honestly try to live our faith beyond just paying it lip service – and we do - then sooner or later we’re going to feel that we’ve been duped because God will take us to places we really don’t want to go; God will ask us to give what we don’t want to give.  For the truth, my friends, is that, for a follower of Jesus it’s not all that different from what it was for Jeremiah. It’s true he received his call to be prophet while still in his mother’s womb, but ours came early, too - at our baptism - and we can escape our call no more than he could. There’s no easy way out.

     But Peter thought there was. He thought there must be a way to skirt suffering, to dodge difficulty, even a way to escape death.  He didn’t want any of those things to happen to Jesus and I am sure he didn’t want them to happen to himself, either.  “Far be it from you, Lord.  God forbid that you should suffer!”  And Peter’s effort to stake out an easy way earned him a bruising rebuke from Jesus: “Get behind me, Satan.  You are thinking not as God does but as human beings do!”

     Those few words of Jesus are the heart of today’s message. God’s way of thinking and our way of thinking are not the same. Not even remotely. God’s ways turn our ways upside-down and inside-out. With God, losing becomes saving, giving up becomes gaining, dying becomes living.  “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life in the process?”

     I’m sure you’re familiar with the so-called “Prosperity Gospel” - the belief among some Christians and hugely popularized by televangelists that financial blessings and physical well-being are God’s will for faithful believers; and that faith, positive thinking, and generous donations to the church are sure to increase one’s material wealth.  Faith is little more than a deal - a contract we enter into with God: if we place our faith in God, God is going to reward us with security and prosperity. Simple as that. But does it ring true?  I hope not. But a lot of people do buy into it and some of them are movers and shakers at the highest levels of our government.

     The truth, of course, is that the Prosperity Gospel is miles removed from the true Christian gospel. When we signed up to be Christians we received no ‘signing bonus’, no assurance of prosperity, and certainly no entitlement to a suffering-free or a sacrifice-free life.  Just the opposite, in fact.  In the words of St. Paul in today’s passage from Romans, when we signed on with Jesus Christ we agreed to “offer our bodies – our very selves – as a living sacrifice to God.”  And sacrifice is a costly thing.  And it’s a counter-cultural thing, too.  It was for Jeremiah, it was for Jesus, and it was for Peter – as he would one day find out.

     Our culture, good in some ways but often driven by self-indulgence, conspicuous consumption, and avoidance of pain at any cost, does not place a whole lot of value on sacrifice.  But sacrifice, rooted in love, is at the heart of the Christian life. And sacrifice, rooted in love, is at the heart of our worship, too. Sacrifice is what we do every time we gather around this altar to celebrate the Eucharist, for this is precisely the place where the sacrifice of Jesus intersects with our lives: where his sacrifice becomes our sacrifice.  “Do this in memory of me” is far more than an invitation to repeat a ritual, it is an invitation to a way of life!

     So, my friends, St. Paul’s words in today’s second reading: “Do not conform yourselves to this age,” are meant to be taken to heart. And so are those challenging words that Jesus spoke to Peter: “You are thinking not as God does but as human beings do!”

Father Michael G. Ryan





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