Reflection for the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A
The readings for this Sunday can be found at https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/083020.cfm
Jeremiah began as a prophet during the religious reforms of King Josiah, which he supported. After Josiah died the people returned to ignoring the law of God and worshipping false gods. Josiah prophesied against their apostacy but the people would have nothing to do with it. They physically maltreated him. The selection we have today is Jeremiah’s looking back at his calling to be a prophet when he tried to argue that he was not capable of doing the job. But, God called him anyway. Note that despite his sufferings for it, he could not be silent about God’s will.
In today’s selection, Paul refers back to the previous section wherein he taught about how God is calling the Gentiles to salvation along with the Israelites. He tells them that the proper response to that call is to make an offering of their very selves as their spiritual worship. This seems to recall what Jesus told the Woman at the Well, that a time is coming when people will worship in spirit and in truth. (Jn 4:23) This is the offering we make at Mass and live out in our day-to-day lives. Even though this reading was not particularly selected to go with the theme of the Mass, it fits amazingly well. (The Second Reading is chosen semi-continuously while the First Reading is chosen to go with the theme of the Mass.)
God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.
I have a friend who is an action person. If he sees something wrong, something that needs to be fixed, or just something that needs to be done, he takes action and fixes the situation. He has a tremendous amount of energy that wears other people out, like me.
I followed him around once, while he was fixing a situation, and I ran out of energy less than halfway to solving the problem. I just wanted for us to sit down and think about it. I’m not sure I really cared whether the problem got solved or not, at least not at that point. Sometimes I’d rather think about something than actually do something about it.
Peter is like my friend, if he sees something wrong, he jumps in and fixes it. He let the Lord know that he wasn’t going to let anything happen to him. And, John tells us that Peter acted upon that instinct when he drew a sword and cut off the ear of the High Priest’s servant at the time when they came to arrest Jesus. (Jn 18:10)
In a way, Peter was playing God here. And, that’s amazing because today’s story occurs right after Peter’s profession of faith that Jesus is “the Messiah, the son of the living God.” Mt 16:16 I guess Peter wanted to be the messiah who saved the Messiah. Jesus is trying to teach the disciples what his being the messiah really means, that he, to fulfill his messiahship, must suffer and die, and then be raised. But that wasn’t the kind of messiah Peter was ready to allow Jesus to be.
If, ultimately, Peter had his way, salvation would not have happened. It seems to me that Peter was suffering from a lack of trust in God, a lack of trust in Jesus. Salvation probably could have come to us Peter’s way if he had been God. But that’s not the way God chose. And, in spite of the ancient theological arguments of why the Son of God had to die to save us, I think it was simply because God wanted us to be saved by a human incarnation of himself. Such a messiah gives meaning to the human condition, including human suffering.
I’m like Peter in that I don’t like suffering. I don’t like suffering myself and I don’t like to see others suffer. But suffering is so much a part of human life. Some suffering is imposed on us by others but much suffering is just woven into the fabric of life. Suffering loss in life is probably the best example. We have all suffered loss in one way or another. We can try to avoid such suffering but if we do, we are also avoiding the fullness of life and, therefore, don’t grow..
Think about it. Jesus could have said “I’m through with this” and tried to save us by simply uttering words. But that wouldn’t have been true to who he is, the Messiah. To live out the truth of his life, he had to suffer human death which brought him resurrection and brought us salvation. That’s who he is.
We too must embrace the natural suffering in our own lives. I think that is what this Gospel means when it says we must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. We must deny the part of ourselves that tries to avoid natural suffering. We must embrace our suffering as our cross. And that is how we follow him and share in his resurrection.
We don’t need to go looking for suffering and we don’t need to accept the suffering other people try to put upon us. We do need to face natural suffering head-on. We can try to avoid it by using power, or wealth, or mind-numbing practices but if we do, we don’t live the fullness of who we are and we don’t grow. I have a friend who has suffered a lot. His prayer during his suffering is always, “Lord, help me see what I am supposed to learn from this.” I think he has the right attitude. And, I think that attitude will get him to the resurrection.
St. Paul said that Jesus “learned obedience from what he suffered.” Heb 5:8 I take that to mean obedience to the Father or obedience to life itself, which I think is the same thing. For the human Jesus, practicing that obedience had to take trust in the Father.
I think that if we try to avoid natural human suffering, we are showing that we don’t trust in God. Think of it like a long tunnel. When we enter the tunnel we see nothing but darkness ahead of us. Then at some point, we begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Trusting in God means believing that the light at the end of the tunnel is always brighter than the light we left behind when we entered it.
If we learn to trust God, we too will definitely share in the resurrection.
“He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.’” Mt 16:23
What words or phrases grabbed your attention during the Liturgy of the Word on Sunday? What connection do those words or phrases have to your day-to-day life? (Why do you think they grabbed your attention?) What might God be trying to say to you through these words or phrases? What response should you make? What action should you take?
Reflect upon/Share about your experience of suffering. Review the story. What did you learn from your experience? How did that make your life better?
Verse by Verse:
Mt 16:21: From that time on… | This phrase connects today’s selection to that which came before it, the story of Peter’s Confession that Jesus is the Messiah. It also begins the journey to Jerusalem which will culminate in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Mt 16:21: …he must go to Jerusalem… | The three Synoptics all tell this story but Matthew is the only one that says Jesus must go to Jerusalem and suffer. Jerusalem is the center of religion for the Jewish people. It is where his saving act must be played out as the future, which he ushers in, begins from that center.
Mt 16:21: …and on the third day be raised. | Being raised emphasizes that the resurrection is an act of God, not of the human personality of Jesus.
Mt 16:23:| …Get behind me Satan! You are an obstacle to me…” | Mark leaves this portion of the episode out completely while Luke relates that Jesus looked around at the disciples before rebuking Peter. A literal translation of the Greek is “Get away from me”.
Obstacles block a path. Jesus’ path was toward Jerusalem. He is telling Peter to get out from in front of him. Many commentators say he is telling Peter to follow behind, as disciples are supposed to do. This understanding is strengthened by the fact that the next verses are the conditions of discipleship.
Many translators concentrate on the harshness of Peter being called Satan. I take it simply as Peter’s actions being likened to the actions of Satan, a truth which should cause Peter to reflect.
Mt 16:23: “You are thinking not as God does but as human beings do.” | This leads right into Jesus’ teaching about the demands of discipleship wherein he teaches that we must deny ourselves. I take denying ourselves to mean to stop thinking as human beings do.
Mt 16:24-26: “…deny himself, take up his cross, and follow…”, “whoever wishes to save his life will lose it'” and “What profit would there be to gain the whole world…” | This saying is not about denying yourself things in general. It is about denying yourself anything that keeps you from taking up your cross. Some translations interpret it to mean he should “no longer think of himself.” For Peter, that may have been denying his desire to protect Jesus from the cross which brought us salvation.
Also, note that taking up our cross is different from taking up crosses that other people might try to put on us although some of that is unavoidable. To the disciples first hearing these sayings, they would probably have thought of the sufferings of the persecutions in early Christianity. In our day and time, it seems to me that taking up our cross means to live the realities of our lives.