"Cry of prophet Jeremiah on the Ruins of Jerusalem" by Ilya Repin (1844-1930). Wikimedia Commons

God's Word on Sunday: We cannot turn our back on God’s call for us

  • August 23, 2020

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Aug. 30 (Year A) Jeremiah 20:7-9; Psalm 63; Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 16:21-27

Jeremiah, ever the reluctant prophet, was bitter, disillusioned and angry. He felt that he had been sold down the river by God. In fact, the Hebrew word that is translated as “enticed” has an even stronger connotation — seduction and force.

His ego was definitely wounded, for he had become a laughingstock. His mission was to preach a message of doom to Jerusalem — it would be destroyed unless the nation surrendered to the Babylonians. This was God’s will, but they would not hear of it.

It must have seemed like defeatism and insanity to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. After all, it was God’s holy city and God’s temple — surely nothing would happen to it! The false prophets at court kept on murmuring soothing words in the ears of the king and his counsellors — exactly what they wanted to hear. There had even been attempts on Jeremiah’s life.

He was at the end of his tether and resolved to quit. He would not preach anymore nor proclaim God’s message.

Easier said than done — the words burned like fire within him, giving him no rest until he began to preach again.

This was also God’s will. One does not resign from the position of God’s anointed prophet. And we do not turn our back on God’s call for us.

How strong is our desire for God? The psalmist likens his yearning for God to someone dying of thirst. Only by drinking deeply will he be restored and given new life.

There is a story of a would-be disciple approaching a spiritual master asking how one can find God. The master grabbed him and shoved his head under the water of a pond until he nearly drowned. When he had been dragged gasping from the water, the master said solemnly that when he desired God as much as he had desired to breath, he would find God. God is not a sometimes addendum to our lives; God is its very heartbeat and breath.

Paul has many challenging teachings concerning the spiritual life. Part of making God the centre of our lives is to present our bodies to God as a living and joyful sacrifice. This means giving up a lot of the things that we considered important or indispensable.

Paul warns us that we will not progress very far on the spiritual path if we govern our behaviour, thoughts and deeds according to worldly norms, values and “wisdom.” It cannot be “business as usual,” so Paul calls for a renewal and transformation of the mind so that we can think and feel in a spiritual register, thereby discerning the will of God.

This is very evident in the story of Peter’s confession of faith. He had earned Jesus’ praise and approval for listening to the voice of God rather than human voices. He correctly proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah and Son of the living God. But within minutes he toppled from his pedestal.

When Jesus began talking of the need for the Messiah to undergo suffering and death, Peter was appalled and horrified, and begged Jesus to reconsider. At that moment, Peter was demoted to Satan and a stumbling block. He was no longer thinking with the divine mind but was now thinking in human terms.

Humans fear pain, discomfort, struggle and death and avoid them at all costs. But in the case of Jesus, they were all serving a divine purpose.

Peter’s fears and protestations were a temptation for Jesus, this is why He was so severe in His rebuke. To think and act solely in human terms would derail God’s plans.

Jesus challenged all His followers to take up their cross. To seek only persona comfort, advantage, security and advancement is to lose the meaning and purpose of our lives. To offer these as a sacrifice to God for the good of others lifts us up and fills us with true life — the life of the Spirit.

In giving ourselves for God and others, we lose nothing but our self-centred ego. We gain everything — our true selves and conscious participation in the divine life.