Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 16: 21-27
The Book of Jeremiah provides this weekend’s first reading. Since Jeremiah was the son of a priest, Hilkiah, he was reared amid great devotion to Hebrew religious tradition. A prophet for two generations, he was unfailingly outspoken, easily provoking opposition and controversy. Angry listeners even threatened to kill him!
Undaunted, he ignored all these criticisms. In the process he reinforced and repeated his denunciations of all that was occurring around him, and insisted that he had no other choice if he were to be faithful to his role as a prophet. God had called him to the role of prophet, he earnestly believed.
He boldly spoke out for obedience to God, and let the chips fall.
Yet, even in this conviction, he did not fail to also say that he had resisted the divine call and frankly admitted that pursuing the call given him by God created all the misery and abuse that he experienced. Nevertheless, he never renounced his calling.
Like other prophets, he saw human misfortune ultimately as the result of human sin. He bluntly told the people that their disloyalty to God would reap for them the whirlwind.
Jeremiah is regarded as one of the major prophets. It is no wonder. The Book of Jeremiah is long in length, but the prophet’s eloquence, drawn from his deep faith, makes it outstanding.
Paul’s Epistle to the Romans supplies the second reading. In this reading Paul pleaded with his readers, the Christian Romans, to offer “their bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.” The language was very relevant indeed for the Roman Christians. The culture around them seethed with hedonism and gross sexual license. To be true to the Gospel, Christians had to exercise virtuous restraint.
Looming ahead, in not too much time, was actual persecution. Being a Christian soon became a capital crime, as Paul’s own martyrdom would show. Christians would have to pay for their faith by surrendering their own bodies for torture and execution under terrifying circumstances.
For its last reading, the church this weekend presents a passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel. It is a continuation of the reading from Matthew last week.
In this story, the Apostles remain with the Lord at Caesarea Philippi, the place that now is something of a resort, at the beginning of the Jordan River north of the Sea of Galilee. Earlier, the reading recalled Peter’s fervent proclamation that he believed that Jesus was the “Son of the living God.” It was a glorious proclamation, and it raised the image of the Lord’s glory and triumph. Easily following this image was the thought of victory over evil and oppressive forces, and vindication after suffering.
Jesus warned and indeed insisted that true followers of the Gospel must themselves endure much. They would have to carry their crosses in the footprints of Christ the crucified.
Many, many centuries have passed since the time when Jeremiah wrote, and almost 20 centuries have come and gone since the preaching of Jesus. While times have changed, little has changed in the fundamentals of human experience because human nature has not changed.
Sin still lures humans into confusion and heartache, and even into a state of eternal death. Sin leads to further sin. Our sin disorders our lives. Human sin deforms our entire world.
Christians must live amid this distortion and chronic sin. Therefore, it is important for us to realize that these ancient Scriptures have a relevance and immediacy for us.
In the end victory awaits, as it was the final outcome of Christian lives long ago. God does not forsake us. With the help and guidance of Jesus the Savior, we bring peace into our hearts and truly succeed in life.
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