31 Aug Homily, 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Deacon Blaine Barclay
The common theme for today’s readings is the temptation to flee from suffering. Making sense out of suffering, unpacking the meaning of suffering, and especially the suffering of our loved ones, is one of life’s most difficult struggles. Sometimes, there is no making sense of it, it remains one of life’s bottomless experiences. It has a built-in opacity, there can be no explaining it away. And yet suffering is inescapable, to be born is to suffer. So perhaps it has something to teach us. We look to our readings for a clue.
I love the opening line from the Prophet Jeremiah today. It provides the context for all of our struggles. “O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed”. The Jerusalem Bible says, ‘‘you have seduced me, and I was seduced; you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed”. There is a certain way that God’s self-communication in grace is irresistible. Such is God’s Beauty and attraction, the delight of the invitation into intimacy with the Lord.
But the call to speak the prophetic word has a consequent cost. Jeremiah has become a ‘laughingstock’, ‘everyone mocks’ him because he is not afraid to speak the word of God. In an attempt to escape this suffering he decides to keep his mouth shut. “I will not mention him, or speak anymore in his name”, he says. This Word that burns like a fire in his heart, like a fire in his belly, smouldering in his bones”. But there is so much infidelity and injustice in the land, the suffering of others cries out, and he cannot keep his mouth shut. “I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot”. So, he says yes to the suffering that comes with speaking the word of God.
In the Gospel we have something similar. Jesus lays out the cost of his mission, his suffering, death, the cross. Peter wants to leap right over these to the victory, the Resurrection. He is not yet able to see the connection between the Cross and the empty Tomb. Peter is only able to see suffering as a stumbling block. Something to trip over on the way to victory. Peter’s refusal of the cross is however, the stumbling block for Jesus and us.
And the cure, “If anyone wants to become my follower, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”. You gotta lose yourself in order to find yourself. Try to save yourself and you will lose yourself. Here again is Jesus’ upside-down kingdom. His reversal of the values of this world.
We live in a culture that seeks to avoid suffering at all cost. From avoidance entertainment, distractions, to pain killers, from Doctor assisted Suicide, to an overly anxious fear of CoVid. It is not that should seek out suffering. It is a good thing to feel, and to seek to heal, the pain of the world. But if suffering comes our way, let us embrace the cross. God will provide a way for us to grow with what life sends us. If we unite our suffering with the cross of Christ, our suffering can also be redemptive. Let it be so.