September 3, 2017 — Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
JER 20: 7-9; PS 63: 2-6, 8-9; ROM 12: 1-2; MT 16: 21-27
St. Peter had dreams of what the Kingdom of God under Jesus was going to be. He most likely imagined something glorious and magnificent in which he, Peter, would play a central role. Glorious and magnificent are apt descriptions, but Christ’s suffering was not something Peter anticipated at all.
The readings on this Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time range from the power and might of God to what is needed to please God to Christ’s revelation of the horror and humiliation of the Crucifixion.
The First Reading from the prophet Jeremiah contains powerful and colorful language as Jeremiah speaks of the Word of God: “But then it (the Word of God) becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.” Jeremiah was called by God with a call which was so powerful it was beyond his ability to resist. It was not for lack of desire, as he found the call to be difficult at best. We may feel in a similar way. God’s call to discipleship and stewardship, for example, can produce problems, sometimes seemingly insurmountable problems to us. Jeremiah indicates similar feelings in today’s First Reading.
However, the call is so strong and so definite that Jeremiah has no choice but responds and shares the Word with others. The Word of God literally overpowers Jeremiah and he must speak. Each of us is called to hear the Word of God and to allow it to burn within us as it does for Jeremiah. In Jeremiah’s case it is God’s will, not his own, which conquers.
In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, our Second Reading, Paul somewhat fulfills this burning desire in Jeremiah when he writes, “I urge you…to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice…Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God.” Fire as we know can be consuming, but Paul often puts it in juxtaposition with the Living Water also offered by the Lord. Following the will of God is not always easy though.
It is in fact the Living Water which allows us to transform our minds and to seek and discover God’s will. That is what following a God-centered stewardship way of life can do for us. It can transform us. The same Greek word, metamorphos, is what the Gospel writers used to describe Christ’s Transformation. In this particular reading Paul calls on us to “be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” This is not a transformation from outside in, but one from inside out. Furthermore, this is not a one-time event. Stewardship has been called ongoing conversion and that is what Paul is indicating here — we are to undergo ongoing transformation. Paul has spent the first eleven chapters of his letter to the Romans instructing and explaining, basically theology. However, in this chapter he shifts from meaning to how we should live, from belief to behavior.
Jesus reveals in the opening verse of our Gospel Reading from St. Matthew that He feels it is time for His followers to fully grasp what is happening and what is about to happen. “Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly.” As indicated in the opening of this reflection, that does not coincide with what Peter thinks is going to happen or should happen. Therefore, “Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, ‘God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you’.” Jesus’ response to Peter is the well known line, “Get behind me, Satan…You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” This is more or less the point of all of our readings.
This is Jesus telling us straight out that we have two choices in life: to be God-centered or self-centered. Our faith does not pamper us; it makes demands of us. This challenge to our beliefs is another sign of the renewal of mind, the transformation, which we must experience every day, sometimes multiple times in a day. The whole point is that rather than yield to our own desires, we need to yield to God’s will, and what He is calling us to do. Jeremiah and even the Lord understand and experience that it is the will of God which needs to judge how we live and what we do.