Being faithful to God is much more than keeping rules and doing the “holy” things. Being faithful to God has much to do with being faithful to whom God has given to us, the name “Creature”. We are invited by today’s readings to our being faithful to our true identities and this involves living with the tensions which come from opposition.
We pray in preparation for celebrating Christ’s faithful journey toward His cross and the self-surrendering act of His death. We walk toward this celebration of the liturgy as we walk toward our own final surrender to our being limited creatures. We can pray with our own awareness of how easy personal infidelities are. Life has many crosses, but the heaviest is that one of our being grateful and accepting of our God-given, God-blessed selves.
In the previous chapter to the one from which our reading is taken for today, Jeremiah has been given the charge of confronting the people and especially the religious leaders of Jerusalem. He is asked by God to buy an earthenware jug and break it in the presence of the people. He then is given words to proclaim that God intends to smash Israel like this jug, because they have profaned the sacredness of the lands and their hearts.
The priest of the temple, Pashur, who is chief of the temple police, has Jeremiah put in stocks for punishment and perhaps for silence. Jeremiah is released the next day by Pashur and so Jeremiah dumps some hard prophetic words on Pashur about how this religious leader’s name according to God is now “Terror” and that is what is going to happen to him and all his friends. One would think that Jeremiah has said enough, but then he predicts the whole downfall of Jerusalem as well.
What we hear in the First Reading is the beginning of a prayer or conversation Jeremiah has with God. We will hear him admit some good things about himself and how, at times, he would rather not be who he is. Jeremiah did, however, faithfully show up for his time and part in God’s work of redemption.
Last week’s Gospel presented Jesus’ asking His friends who they thought he was. Peter stated boldly that Jesus indeed was the Christ and the “Son of the Living God”. What we hear today are the very next verses of Matthew’s dramatic script. Peter is involved once more and seems to be flexing the power of being the Rock.
Jesus is presenting to His friends the real meaning of what it is going to mean to be the Christ and the Son of God. He will have to show up in Jerusalem and Peter has a better idea.
Jesus uses this tense moment of His saying that He has to suffer and die. There is a deep reality to Jesus’ being the Christ, and a deeper reality of the disciples’ being followers of the Christ. Jesus invites them to follow Him by their being faithful to their relationship with Him which has made them who they are.
“Losing” and “gaining”, “saving” and “finding” are powerful words which get the attention of the disciples and us the readers and listeners. These words all depend on the final word of the Gospel-reading, “conduct”. What is this “conduct” about?
We can be quite concerned about doing the right things at all times. Is God watching? This is all quite external actually and what Jesus is asking of the disciples and of us is a more interior following of Him as He lived by His showing up as Who He interiorly knew Himself to be. His “Cross” was more than the wood of Calvary, but the flesh and spirit, the history and destiny of His whole life. He, His very self, was His Cross! He was Who He had heard He was, the “Beloved of the Father”.
Now we might say easily that certain other people are our crosses. We might say that a certain physical disability or personality defect is our cross. It is more interior than that. What Jesus is offering the disciples and us, is the personal embrace of the totality of our reality; creature, limited, a mind that thinks like a limited creature. We can speak of “pain-avoidance” as a psychological process of not facing the truth of pains. There is a “cross-avoidance” built into our human way of thinking. Our various cultures promote “painless”, “easy” and all other forms of avoiding just what it means to be a creature of God.
Recently I was jogging and twisted my ankle and fell to the pavement. It hurt and I lifted my face and asked silently, “what are You telling me?” A little voice said, “Get up”. So for the past three weeks I have been getting up with a slight hobble. My injured ankle is not the cross: my struggling with my whole humanity is the cross of my life. By “humanity” I don’t mean physical frailty. I mean my history which brings me to my future and destiny. I do not always like my history, my present condition of hobbling, nor my unknown future. I desire to have it all, quick and easy, finding my life now, gaining, winning, but the call is to have a more interior and God-centered thinking pattern about me and thee.
We who are followers of Jesus, who proclaim Peter-like that Jesus is the Son of God, are not seduced nor fooled. We believe and struggle with the verticality of our souls and the horizontality of our human creatureliness. The cross is not an event of time, but the time-bound movement toward our own Jerusalem’s and resurrections. “Get up!” the voice said to Jeremiah, to Jesus, to Peter, and to each of us who hobble after the Master. We show up waiting for Him to show up and raise us all and that is the “conduct” of holiness.
“O Lord, how great is the depth of the kindness which You have shown to those who love you.” Ps. 31, 20.
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