The Peace Pulpit: Homiles by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton
|Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time||August 28, 2005|
I'm sure none of us missed the dramatic shift in what happens in the gospel today. The two events are so close together: last week Jesus praised Peter, almost without restraint and today Jesus said to him, "You Satan! You're an adversary! You're against me!" If we take some moments to reflect on this incident we can learn much from it. The first thing I think that we might learn is something that we've been reflecting on for the last few weeks and that is how human Jesus is. It's important for us to reflect on this and to really connect with his humanness because that helps us when we're in the same kind of circumstances.
In a way, I think, that Jesus was sort of overreacting. Matthew says this is the first time he began to tell them, "I'm going up to Jerusalem and I'm going to be tortured and killed, executed." Well, how would you expect them to suddenly understand all of that? But the humanness of Jesus, I think, comes out because not only has he not prepared the disciples for this but I think he's struggling with it himself. He was so human he dreaded this going up to Jerusalem where he knew what was going to happen to him, where he'll be totally rejected by the Pharisees, by the chief priests, the leaders of the people, the pagan authorities. He was afraid. He didn't want to do it. So when Peter challenges him and says, "Oh, you don't have to do it. It's OK." Peter was thinking in human terms, just as Jesus said, "You're thinking like a human, you're not thinking like God."
Jesus overreacts because he's afraid, and that's what we do sometimes when we're not quite sure of ourselves and somebody challenges us. It makes us afraid and defensive, so we attack the person who's challenging us. I think that's what Jesus did. He felt so alone. He felt rejected. I'm sure any one of us could put ourselves in similar circumstances: you've felt alone, rejected and so on and yet you knew you had to do something. Then somebody says, "No, you don't have to do that." Well, you would be tempted not to do it. Jesus, because he knows he had to do it, overreacts, gets angry at Peter and tells him, "You're Satan, an adversary."
Jesus does recover, of course, and becomes again very confident in knowing that he's following God's way. He goes on and invites Peter and the other disciples to come after him. And they do. You must give them all credit for that, because they understood what it meant for someone to be crucified. We've never seen that. They saw it happen. Sometimes the Romans would crucify hundreds of people at a time and leave them hanging on crosses hours and even days until they slowly died. It was a horrible thing to experience or to see. So they knew what Jesus was saying, yet they were willing to follow after him.
What Jesus says to Peter we have to take in for ourselves, too, because if you remember from last week's reflection on the scriptures, one of the interpretations -- and it was one of the oldest interpretations -- of that passage about being the rock upon which the church was built was that the rock was not simply Peter but it was the faith of Peter and the faith of the whole community. That's the rock on which the church is built, on which a community of followers of Jesus remains faithful and follows him, the whole community.
We're the ones who, right now, at this time, in today's world, are that community of disciples of Jesus. The faith that is in us is the rock on which the whole church can be built and can grow and can transform the world. If that is true, then isn't it also true that we have to do what St. Paul tells us? We have to not be conformed to the ways of the world but to let a revolution take place in our minds and in our hearts in order that we can be conformed to Jesus and to the ways of Jesus.
For us to follow Jesus now -- as those first disciples were challenged, "Follow me" -- we have to undergo a change in our thinking, don't we? Because what Jesus asks is so different from the ways of the world from ordinary human thinking. Just reflect very quickly. Jesus says give up power, the power to dominate, to be in control, to be able to coerce others. Jesus says give it up. Have we even begun to do that individually or as a community or as a nation? We cling to power. We want power. We want to be able to control others, to dominate. That's not God's way. That's not God's thinking. It's human thinking. Jesus says, "Be identified with the poor." We want riches. Jesus says, "Hunger and thirst for justice." We sit back and let injustice happen all around us. Jesus says, "Allow yourself to be rejected." Let people laugh at you because you're following a way that's not an ordinary way -- following God's thinking and God's way.
It's really a terrific challenge that we face today as we listen to these scriptures, and it's a good thing, I believe, that we have some people who show us the way. Jeremiah was one. As I mentioned before, when he was still very young God called him to be a prophet, to proclaim God's word, to try to preach to the people. Jeremiah said, "I can't do it. I'm too young." God said, "I'll give you what you need. I'll be with you." God was with Jeremiah, and Jeremiah began to preach and to proclaim. Then he finds himself rejected, laughed at. He complains to God saying, "You have taken me by force and prevailed. I am a laughingstock. From morning till night they all make fun of me every time I speak. Yahweh's word has brought me insult and derision all day long." He wanted to give it all up, but he didn't. "God's word is in my heart like a fire imprisoned in my bones, and I force myself to hold it in but that's impossible!" He's so overwhelmed by God's word that no matter what happened to him, he had to proclaim that word, to live that word until that word began to change the world. Jeremiah was an extraordinary example of someone who was willing to follow where God was leading.
Jesus, of course, came into our midst to be the supreme example of this and invited us to follow. From my experience this week I can tell you that Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste -- a priest in Hati whom I have spoken of before -- is someone who has been overwhelmed by God's word and in spite of the fact that he's rejected. The poor, who of course are the majority, accept him, but the other priests and the bishops in the country, the wealthy people, they reject him, they laugh at him, and they make sure he's thrown into prison where the conditions are horrendous. He was in isolation in a tiny cell in darkness all the time. And he suffers; evidently he has a rather severe infection of some sort that's debilitated him quickly. But when we visited with him both times this past week, it was amazing. They bring him from his cell and he sits down to talk with you, you can sense how tired he is and how, well, in some ways, discouraged. But then as you begin to talk, he gets energy. He gets strength, and by the time we finish the visit, we say a prayer together. He leads the prayer, and he challenges us to be faithful, to be strong, to be courageous, to work for justice, to bring peace into the world. He's the one who's leading. It's amazing.
It's a blessing for us that we have prophets like that who can show us what it really means to be a follower of Jesus and not -- as Peter was at first -- someone who tries to take us away from the path of God, the path of Jesus. Again, I remind you of what St. Paul said, "Do not be conformed to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind." A revolution has to happen within our thinking so that we can begin to have God's way of thinking. And then we have to have the courage to act on it. What will make that possible? I'm convinced there's one thing, really, and it's what happened to Jeremiah when he told us he wanted to forget about God and speak no more in God's name. "God's word," he said, "is in my heart like a fire. It's imprisoned in my bones. I try to hold it in but that's impossible."
What we need is to be on fire with the word of God. That means we have to come each Sunday and listen deeply to what God says to us and during the week pray each day God's word. Listen deeply. Let it become a fire inside of you like it did in Jeremiah, like it does in Gerry Jean-Juste. He has his prayer book with him and he prays the scriptures every day in that jail cell.
That's what we need to do, pray God's word, listen to God's word, let it become a choir within us that we cannot hold in, and gradually we'll undergo that transformation. We'll be changed so that we will think like God. We will act according to the ways of God and God's word will be proclaimed in our world and we'll change it. We must pray today that each of us will continue to listen deeply every day to God's word until it becomes a fire in our bones that we cannot hold in and then we will be true followers of Jesus.
In the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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