Reflections on the Readings for Sunday 28 August 2011
Jeremiah 20:7-9; Psalm 63:2-6, 8-9; Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 16:21-27
Reading the passage from Jeremiah and the psalm, I am reminded of the words of the U2 song: “I can’t live with or without you.” There are several complaints like this one in Jeremiah’s book. He was chosen by God to be a prophet and given special revelations and insight into God and what God was doing. A close relationship like that with the living God did not turn out to be easy, however. He had to prophesy the defeat and exile of the nation that he loved. That led to internal struggle in addition to external persecution. But God had taken hold of him and walking away was not an option for Jeremiah, no matter how difficult things got. The psalmist seems to be in the opposite place, consumed with a desperate sense of the felt absence of God. Like parched land longing for rain, the one who prays the psalm longs for God. If the prophet would like to escape God’s call, the psalmist actively seeks God and draws strength from remembering past experiences of God and dwelling imaginatively on what life will be like when God is found again.
Poor Peter also discovered that life with God is not always the peace and victory and spiritual satisfaction that we’d like it to be. He’d given up a lot to follow Jesus, so when Jesus starts talking about actively moving toward suffering and death at the hands of the powers that be, he strenuously objects. Jesus shocks him toward a new way of thinking with a stinging rebuke. The life of faith is lived upon the crossbeams of paradox. We find by relinquishing, and lose what we try to hold on to. The road that Jesus walked is the road that his followers must also take. It is a road that leads via the cross to resurrection, to transformation.
Paul describes this journey in terms of sacrifice and a different way of perceiving reality that lets go of the illusions that support the status quo. We are not to allow ourselves to be passively sacrificed to the agendas of others, nor are we to opt for the easy way out. We are to offer ourselves as living sacrifices – an intentional, committed activity. Like Jeremiah, we are to open ourselves to all the conflict and sorrow that being seized by God brings into our lives. Like the psalmist, we are to be perpetually longing after the God whom we can never domesticate and ‘find’ once for all. Like Peter, we must follow Christ to sometimes scary places. We’re not called to embrace difficulty for its own sake out of some martyr complex, but life with God is not for sissies. Nevertheless, to be transformed, to discern the good, pleasing and perfect will of God, to find our lives – that’s worth the struggle of the journey.