September 3, 2023 — Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
JER 20:7-9; PS 63:2-6, 8-9; ROM 12:1-2; MT 16:21-27
If we are striving to live the stewardship way of life, we must be honest with ourselves and admit it’s not going to be easy. Dying to self and living for Christ and others is tough. It’s the work of a lifetime. But in the end, it’s the only work that really matters and the only life that truly satisfies. Our readings today reflect this challenging reality.
Our first reading is from the book of the prophet Jeremiah. After a series of hard knocks as he tries to preach the message God has entrusted to him, Jeremiah sums up the steward’s “dilemma” — the choice between living for self or living for God — this way: “I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart… I grow weary holding it in.”
Haven’t we all felt that way, perhaps after frustrations in our ministry or being chided by friends for our “crazy Catholic beliefs”? But God is so good, so loving, so generous to us that, like Jeremiah, even when we’re tempted to throw in the towel, we simply cannot turn our back on Him. We hold steady on the stewardship way of life.
The second reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans teaches how we get back to the path of discipleship in those moments of discouragement when we feel the temptation to just give up and give in to selfishness. Paul urges us, “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.” He says, “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you may do the will of God.”
What does this mean for us modern-day stewards? It means we must discipline ourselves — body, mind, and spirit — through a consistent prayer life, continuous formation in our Catholic faith, and setting aside anything in our life (entertainment, material possessions, social activities) that is not pleasing to God. Seems impossible, doesn’t it? And it would be impossible, except for the grace of God which is always available to us in abundance if we simply ask God for it.
Our Gospel passage, from Matthew, continues this theme of the tough demands of the steward’s way of life, this time in the words of Jesus Himself. Jesus tells His disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” This sounds harsh. Why would anyone want to do this? Our Lord has the answer, of course. “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
It’s all about love. Jesus loved (and loves) us totally, giving us all of Himself on the Cross, in His Word, and in the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist.
And so we must choose: love of self, or love of God and others — which is tough, but fulfilling and leads to the eternal reward of heaven. Jesus promises that He “will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay all according to his conduct.”
Let us make the tough choice to lose our life for Christ’s sake, in grateful response to His love. Honestly, what better life could there be?