August 31, 2014 – Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jesus does not mince words in the Gospel when He says, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” We may not find much comfort in those words, but that is because our focus tends to be on life right here and right now, not the promise of everlasting life offered by the Lord.
The readings on this Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time emphasize much of the challenge we may have in following the Lord and doing what He asks us to. The first reading is from the Prophecy of Jeremiah. One of the longest books of the Old Testament, Jeremiah recounts warnings by the prophet of the same name to the people of Judah. Anticipating the Babylonian invasion in 586 B.C., Jeremiah warns the people that they must repent and change or they are doomed.
No one likes to be chastised, let alone rebuked. Jeremiah was doing what God had told him to. Yet, he was reviled and hated and eventually killed. In today’s brief reading Jeremiah is pleading with God to help him. He tells God he really does not want to continue because of how he is treated, but at the same time he acknowledges that the word of God “becomes like fire burning in my heart.” In other words, a higher power is within him. That same power is in us if we allow it to be. We need a “burning desire” to live as the Lord wishes us, to pursue discipleship through stewardship.
St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, our second reading, reiterates the challenge of living a good and spiritual life. One of his key warnings to us is “Do not conform yourselves to this age.” We must be willing to live, in modern terms “outside the box” sometimes. When Paul challenges us “to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice,” he is not asking us to lay down our lives, although many Christians through the centuries have done exactly that. In the idea of stewardship, we are fond of speaking of giving our time, our talent, and our treasure. However, the Lord wants more than that. He wants us to give of our very selves to serve Him and one another. That is the point which Paul is making. God wants our whole self, not just a small percentage of it.
As is often the case, Jesus takes it all a step further in the Gospel from Matthew. The Lord points out to us that if we really wish to follow Him we must deny ourselves (“Whoever wishes to follow me must deny himself.”). This is similar to Paul’s command. Stewardship is a God-centered way of living, not a self-centered way. It is one of those ways in which we deny ourselves for the benefit of the Kingdom and for others. The reality of life is that it always ends in death, but Jesus has provided us a way to avoid that. That is what He means when He says “take up your cross and follow me.” Jesus is indeed “the way and the truth and the life,” and no one comes to the Father except through Him.
One of our popular modern questions is “What’s in it for me?” What do I get out of living a life of stewardship? Jesus makes it very clear that He will “repay all according to our conduct.”