Today’s readings deal with the soul, its relationship with God and carrying the Cross in order to follow Jesus.
In the first reading, we read how Jeremiah says that God “duped” him. Can you imagine that? God is “duping” or cheating someone? How is that possible?
Jeremiah is sent to speak on behalf of the Lord and he is mocked, harassed and bullied. Jeremiah then feels like God cheated him or deceived him. He feels left out in the cold, so to speak; even to the point of trying to avoid mentioning God, His name or speaking of Him. However, Jeremiah finds that this is impossible because the desire to continue burns in his heart and he cannot hold it in.
How many times do we feel God has sent us to do something and we think it will be easy but it backfires? We may try to share our faith to others thinking it will be a smooth “ride” or a calm walk at the park, but instead, it becomes an moment of suffering and disillusionment? I can speak to this from experience. Whether preaching on streets, visiting homes and what not, I myself have been met with ridicule and disappointment. Even on the internet where I have used Twitter, Facebook, and blogs to promote the teachings of Christ in the Catholic Church and have become the topic of mockery and disdain among non-believers and even some believers within and without the Catholic faith.
This is part of the Christian life. The Christian message will be attractive to some, but will seem disgusting or evil in the eyes of others. You will be made fun of, called outdated, oppressive and immoral just for sharing the faith. Jesus said that His followers will be hated and despised because of Him (Matthew 10:22). This may not sound fun for the person sharing the faith. As a matter of fact, sometimes a believer can lose faith. Like Jeremiah, he or she may feel as if God abandoned him or her. He or she may not even want to continue sharing the faith, or avoid mentioning God as Jeremiah attempted. This is called the “dark night of the soul.” However, when we are at that point (and it will happen), we will still feel the desire to continue sharing the faith even if it brings pain. We will preach the Word in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2). Ironically, it is during mockery and abuse that the Word gets spread faster.
The responsorial Psalm responds to the first reading from Jeremiah with the response: “My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.” This reminds us that we are constantly desiring God. Even when we feel God has abandoned us or “duped” us, we still seek Him. Everyone is susceptible to this desire, even atheists. As St. Augustine, whose feast day we celebrated a few days ago said, “Our hearts are restless, until they rest in you.” This Psalm encompasses this quote showing how we thirst for God. Everything God offers is better than life, as the Psalm states. Who else do we have to rely on other than God (John 6:68)?
This ties in with the second reading from Romans where St. Paul tells the Christians of his day and us today that we must offer ‘ourselves as living sacrifices’ to God in a holy and pleasing manner. This means that we will constantly suffer. Sacrifices are not pretty. They are not fun. These mega-church prosperity preachers who claim God will bring about money and material goods do not understand what Christianity is about. Sacrifice is necessary. Moreover, St. Paul reminds us not to get used to the world. We must not fall into the ways of the world but be counter-cultural. We must be ready to give it all up for God’s sake even if it pains us greatly. The will of God must be properly discerned which we know by its characteristics: 1) Must be good. 2) Must be pleasing and perfect.
In the news we sometimes read of our separated brethren in different sects doing things in God’s name that bring harm. They may deny health care to children believing God will heal them, bother snakes, or may protest the funerals of others believing this to be God’s will. In reality, these are not. Denying healthcare to children is not a good. It is not pleasing nor perfect, so therefore, it cannot be the will of God. Moreover, protesting the funerals of others is not a good. It is not pleasing nor perfect, so it too fails to be the will of God. The will of God is something that is good and brings about good. It is pleasing and perfect free from human error and nonsense.
Lastly, in the Gospel we read how Jesus tells His disciples that He will suffer greatly, be killed and will rise on the third day. Peter finds this news unpleasant and tells Jesus “No, God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” Jesus then responded to him strongly, “Get behind me, Satan!” Here we see how Satan always tries to present itself as a caring humanist who wants humanity to be comfortable. This is not how it’s supposed to be. Jesus Himself felt like Jeremiah in the Garden of Gethsemane where His humanity stepped in with its anxieties and fears (Luke 22:42). We too will feel the same as we grow spiritually. Remember, the closer you get to God and Heaven, the more “out of place” you will feel on Earth.
Moreover, Jesus continues with some words which are interesting: “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” These words are powerful and are important in the philosophical debate on evil existing in a universe where a Good God exists, more commonly called: “The Problem of Evil.” How many times do we see atheists use the Flood of Noah, plagues of Egypt and other events to present God as immoral or evil? How many times do they inquire how God can let children die of hungry, disease; or how can He let innocent people die in natural disasters or terrorists attacks? They ask these questions because they think as human beings do and not as God.
God brings good out of anything, even evil events. We see events as evil because are finite creatures trapped in the temporal and spatial. We only see the moment and not the entire film of life, so to speak. This is why it is difficult to understand why evil exists and why it seems to contradict the existence of a Good God. We must trust God and try to find meaning in the events of life in Him. Rationalizing them with human means will do nothing but bring despair. Suffering is part of being human and especially Christian. Jesus had to suffer to redeem the world. We too have to share in this suffering.
As Jesus said:
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world
and forfeit his life?
Or what can one give in exchange for his life?
For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory,
and then he will repay all according to his conduct.”