22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time A – Fr. Rick Sherman
August 30, 2020
Jer. 20:7-9; Rom. 12:1-2 Mt. 16:21-27
The readings today give us a real sense of how difficult it can be to hear God and actually understand His ways. The great prophet Jeremiah feels duped and Peter is told in no uncertain terms from Jesus Himself that he is thinking like humans think and not like God thinks. When Paul is reminding the Christian community in first century Rome to not conform to the ways of the present age, he is addressing the great perennial questions: Whose voice and whose ways are we really following? How could humans ever actually know and understand God’s ways?
Recall in last week’s gospel Peter is given the keys to heaven because he knows so surely who Jesus really is. This week Jesus calls Peter ‘Satan’. Whip lash!! Jesus helps us understand when last week He proclaimed that Peter’s understanding was not through flesh and blood or human thinking, but from wisdom coming directly from His Heavenly Father. Today He is making the distinct point that Peter’s desire to save Jesus was due to human thinking. It’s pretty easy to sympathize with Peter; wouldn’t we all want to save Jesus? I mean they were just getting off to a good start. What would the movement or the mission look like without Jesus? Obviously, there is a distinct difference in how God thinks and how humans think. We should be ready to be humbled…a lot!
Poor Jeremiah. It’s rather easy to sympathize with him too. Jeremiah really did not want to be a prophet and told God as much. This is how Jerimiah’s career as a prophet started out: First Chapter of Jeremiah…
The word of the LORD came to me: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you.
“Ah, Lord GOD!” I said, “I do not know how to speak. I am too young!”*
But the LORD answered me, Do not say, “I am too young.”
To whomever I send you, you shall go; whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you—oracle of the LORD.
Then the LORD extended his hand and touched my mouth, saying to me,
See, I place my words in your mouth! Today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, To uproot and to tear down, to destroy and to demolish, to build and to plant.
The word of the LORD came to me: What do you see, Jeremiah?
“I see a branch of the almond tree,” I replied.
Then the LORD said to me: You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to carry it out.
Sounds like a slam dunk! What could go wrong with God so directly involved? But when we fast forward to Chapter 20 and today’s reading, Jeremiah has been rejected and humiliated and persecuted by his own people and there does not appear to be any positive results. Wasn’t God watching over his Word to carry out power over the kingdoms?! No wonder Jeremiah feels duped!
And what minister of the Lord cannot relate to this situation? Most ministers start out with high hopes coming out of their newfound vocation and relationship with God. And there are certainly good times and wonderful people along the way which we would have likely never met outside of our ministries. But it would be hard to make the case that humans are finally listening to God and the nations and the kingdoms are finally living in harmony. Of course, the same could be said for anyone going into any of the helping professions: teaching, medicine, social work, law enforcement and even politics? Are conditions in any of these great vocations getting measurably better? Can most of us stand back and say, “Yes, we can definitely see the hand of God in all the latest trends!”
Have we all been duped?!!
When most of us are saying, “What?!”, it is probably a good time to be relentlessly honest about whose plan we are following and whose voice is actually driving our attitudes, actions and expectations? Really. How would we actually know?
I’m sure you have all been hinged to the Democratic and Republican National Conventions the past couple week. There seems to me to be not just the loyal opposition happening, but some profound divisiveness and even hostility. Both sides, as well as their many subsidiary groups and coalitions, are very certain of their truth, their righteousness, and their ideas. Both sides are also invoking the name of God in their righteousness. Both conventions opened one of their sessions with a prayer led by a Catholic Bishop or priest. Most of the US Congress are followers of the God of Abraham: Christians, Jews and Muslims. The largest religious group in the Congress would identify as Christians, believers in the Old and New Testament. Our politicians come from American families and are voted in by American citizens. They are us. We are all good righteous people, right? So where does all the divisiveness, distrust and hostility come from?
Perhaps we have been duped. Perhaps we have been duped by the same person who duped Peter. Satan. Just as Peter’s concerns for the safety of Jesus seems reasonable from a human standpoint, and Jeremiah could justifiably have expected better near-term results from his efforts, perhaps we and the Congress are not all thinking like God….? Perhaps we are so used to talking to people who think like us fellow humans that we have indeed conformed to our age as did the first century Romans.
How do we push back against these strong Satan-inspired human tendencies? Certainly, prayer. Individual and group prayer. Daily and weekly and regularly followed by biblically inspired discussion. And of course, study. Disciple means student, in fact DISCIPLINED student.
Perhaps this week we could take some time and really reflect on who is having the greatest influence on our thinking, attitudes and actions. Also, anticipate upcoming study sessions on Theology of the Body for those concerned about such things as abortion, poverty, human trafficking, and all sorts of temperance needed in most areas of life. Likewise, we can consider good study programs for understanding the underlying bible values of Catholic social teaching during this election year. If we read through the different areas of the Faithful Citizen document, I would suspect that most people already have strong RIGHTEOUS opinions about most issues. The key will be if we can risk the possibility that we are actually thinking like humans rather than like God. Stayed tuned and stay glued to the St. Christopher website….