Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time Jer 20:7-9 Ps 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9 Rom 12:1-2 Mt 16:21-27
In the first reading this Sunday, the prophet Jeremiah cries out to God with stinging audacity, “You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped.” It seems the prophetic gift bestowed by God has brought nothing but misery, in Jeremiah’s words, “derision and reproach all the day.”
Even shutting his mouth does not help, for the word of the Lord trapped inside burns like fire. Frustrated and exhausted, the prophet spirals toward the very edge of despair.
The complete text of Jeremiah’s poetic tirade (Jer 20:7-13) could easily have landed in the book of Psalms. There it would bear the scholarly label “individual lament” and join many such complaints in the hymnal of Israel. Though it hides here in a prophetic book, its structure gives it away.
Today’s reading (v 7-9) represents Jeremiah’s opening gambit. If we read on to verse 10, we gain insight into his circumstances and can begin to put his outcry in context: “I hear the whisperings of many … All those who were friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine.” (Former friends make formidable enemies, for they know our weaknesses.)
I find a bit of reassurance here. It seems that even the prophets, who heard the voice of God in a profound and personal way, whose intimate relationship with the Lord empowered their drowned out the voice of God within.
In this case, however, the discipline of ritual prayer, particularly the well-known structure of the individual lament, guides Jeremiah to pour out his complaint, to remember God’s promise of presence, “But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion” (v 11), and finally, to turn the problem over to God.
Though harsh to our ears, Jeremiah’s bold language signifies deep trust in the Lord rather than disrespect, intimacy rather than estrangement. Psalm 63 invokes this intimacy with its deeply expressive mystical language, i.e., flesh pining, soul thirsting; shadow of your wings, soul clinging fast, and liturgical references, i.e., in the sanctuary, lifting of hands, calling upon the name. It invites us to pray these ancient words of longing out of our own holy place of communion with God.
St. Paul builds on the intense and intimate dialogue portrayed in Jeremiah 20 and Psalm 63. He speaks of “living sacrifice” and “spiritual worship” in contrast to the circumscribed and largely external piety of religious ritual. In Paul’s view, the whole of one’s life becomes one’s offering to God, “holy and pleasing.”
Ours must be the attitude of Jesus Christ who “emptied himself” (Phil 2:7). Paul emphasizes interior transformation, the renewal of mind and perspective, that leads to action in alignment with God’s will and purpose, i.e., “good and pleasing and perfect.” Such is the fruit of spiritual discernment, in true dialogue with God, in the context of deep relationship.
In the Gospel, Jesus begins to hint at the suffering he must face in Jerusalem, only to have Peter, the closest of his friends, turn against him (reminding us of Jeremiah’s plight). Peter means well, but Jesus rebukes him sharply, “Get behind me, Satan!” (In this context, the name “Satan” refers to the most intimate of enemies.) Jesus challenges Peter to change his perspective — to see as God sees.
Jesus then describes the “all in” commitment that following him demands. There can be no holding back, no hedging of bets. Only by turning over everything to God, all that we are, all that we have, every measure of security, every day, can we hope to find life in God.
Here we get one more glimpse of the mystery of the kingdom — by losing all for the sake of Christ and his mission, we gain all. This embodies St. Paul’s “living sacrifice” — surrender to God in trust, following in the footsteps of Jesus.
Melanie holds a master’s in pastoral studies from Loyola University, New Orleans.