22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Book of Jeremiah provides this weekend’s first reading. Jeremiah was blunt and controversial, and angry listeners at times went so far as to threaten his life. He withstood criticisms, but he did not abide the outrages without protest. He devoutly believed that his role as a prophet resulted from his acceptance of God’s call. Nevertheless, he complained to God that the divine call overwhelmed him. Yet, he never renounced his calling.
This weekend’s reading includes Jeremiah’s protestation about being a prophet as well as a warning that disaster awaited the people’s continued sinning.
The prophet says that his message is of “violence and outrage,” and the message met opposition. The message was violent, demanding a total break from what human nature itself urged.
St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is the source of 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.”
All around these Christians in the great imperial capital, and across the empire, was a culture utterly at odds with the Gospel of Jesus. Deep within this culture were hedonism, greed, selfishness and gross sexual license.
Paul urged the Christian Romans to resist this culture. It was a hard demand. On the horizon was a political and legal antagonism against Christianity. Christians would be abused, tormented and executed under terrifying circumstances. (Paul himself would be executed.)
Paul encouraged and challenged the Christians of Rome to be steadfast even in the face of such persecution.
For its last reading this weekend, the Church presents a passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel, a continuation of the reading from Matthew last week.
The Apostles still are with the Lord at Caesarea Philippi, at the beginning of the Jordan River north of the Sea of Galilee. This scene is yet another in the chain of events in which the Apostles’ unique roles as students and commissioned representatives can be inferred.
Jesus continues to instruct. It now is a more solemn, indeed foreboding, message. He warned that true followers of the Gospel must themselves endure much. They would have to carry their crosses in the footprints of Christ the crucified.
Peter again prominently appears, here protesting the Lord’s prediction of the crucifixion. Jesus sternly rebukes Peter, to the point of calling Peter “Satan,” and saying that the rock upon which the Church would be built in fact could be a stumbling block.
The world, deformed by sin, clings to itself in a fundamentally misguided wish to maintain security. No one ever truly erases the effects of original sin that scarred and crippled human nature. This fact leads to further sin. It creates a distorted and taunted world, and it causes even believers to pause in their witness and question their faith. Christians must live amid this distortion and chronic sin.
Doom and gloom are not the final points in these readings. Rather, the lesson is that God does not forsake us. He offers us the way to salvation. Jesus is the Savior. In the marvel of God’s vocation and grace, Christians are privileged to bring divine hope and peace into the world. How should we respond?
In the Gospel passage, as was the case last week, Peter is central. Last week, Peter professed great faith. This week, he fails to grasp what Jesus is saying and reverts to human conclusions. Jesus strongly corrects him.
As history unfolded, Peter assumed the role given by Jesus, leading the Apostles and the Church. In Him, in them and in the Church, we have the words of everlasting life. But, we can never forget what we are, limited humans, reduced by sin. We must give ourselves totally to God, trusting only in God.
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