22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Fr. Francis)
There was once a woman whose happiness was shattered by the loss of her brother.
He was a good man, dearly loved, and she was torn by anguish. And she kept asking God why: “Why him, why me, why?” But hearing only silence, she set out in search of an answer.
She had not gone far when she came upon an old man sitting all alone on a bench and he was weeping. And she said to him, “Why are you weeping, old man?”
“Because,” he said, “I have suffered a great loss. You see, all my life I’ve been a painter, a painter of lovely pictures, and now, I know not why, I’ve lost my sight.”
He, too, was looking for an answer to the question “Why?” The woman invited him to join her, and taking him by the arm, they trudged down the road together.
Soon they were overtaken by a young man walking about aimlessly. He had lost his wife, the source of all his joy. And, even more unfortunately, he did not lose her to death but to another man.
He, too, joined in the search of an answer to “Why me? Why?”
Shortly, they came upon a young woman sitting on her front doorstep and she was sobbing into her hands because she had lost her child, her only child.
She, too, joined this little company, and nowhere could they find an answer to the question “Why?”
Suddenly, however, they came upon Jesus and each confronted him with their questions.
But Jesus was silent, and he gave no answer.
Instead, he began to weep and through his tears he said, “I bear the burden of a woman who has lost her brother, the burden of a young girl whose baby has died, a painter who has lost his sight, a young man who has lost a love in which he delighted.”
And as Jesus spoke, the four moved closer. And then they embraced each other. And they grasped Jesus’ hands and held him to them.
And Jesus spoke again. Jesus said, “My dominion is the dominion over the heart. I cannot prevent pain but only heal it.”
“How, then, do you do that?” said the woman.
And he answered, “Only by sharing it with you.”
And, suddenly, he was gone from their sight.
And what of the other four?
Out of pain can come compassion, sharing and selflessness. Learn to love by loving, learn how to heal by healing, and, in the end, in the end, the only thing left is love.
Life is difficult! This is the opening sentence of Scott Peck’s book, The Road Less Traveled, and I think there would be few of us here today who would argue with the truth of that statement. Even when our lives are well grounded, even when things are going smoothly, it does not take long before something challenges us, something attacks us, something causes us pain. “It’s always something; if it’s not one thing, it’s another.” Each one of us has a cross to carry, and carrying that cross makes life difficult.
Today, the twenty second Sunday of ordinary time, the church, encourages us to overcome all reluctance and obstacles to offer ourselves completely to Christ. Hence, all the readings of this Sunday lean towards, total submission and conformity to Christ.
In the first reading, Jeremiah lamented: “Lord you have seduced me; you have overpowered me.” He simply complained about the toughness of his mission. Lord God, but you did not tell me that it was going this difficult! Of course, at the beginning of his call, he resisted God, making excuses: “Lord God, truly I do not know how to speak. I am only a boy.” However, God insisted that He has chosen him even from his mother’s womb. (Jer 1:4-10).
The resistance, submission, and ordeal of Jeremiah tells us that nothing can prevent the mission of God, not even our resistance. This is especially when His hands are upon one. Though Jeremiah resisted, he eventually submitted to God: “…and I have let myself be seduced.” He conformed to God’s will and was no longer in charge of himself. Rather, the word of God burned like fire in him, that he could no longer resist preaching it.
After submitting to God, eventually, the Jeremiah who was very timid, and did not know how to speak, became transformed. There is much mystery in God! We over assume that our mission must always be easy. Unfortunately, it is not always so. Faithfulness to God at times brings us trials, disappointments and even sufferings. At times, he allows us to experience horrific pains. However, despite all these, He shields and blesses us.
In the second reading, Paul employed the language of grace, rather than that of law to implore us: “Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.” Here, Paul calls us to submit completely to God without resistance and reservation. To present our bodies is to submit our faculties, and the totality of our being. It is total surrender to God. This total surrender is essential to a life of righteousness, joy, peace, and victory in Christ.
Of course, to offer oneself completely means accepting all that comes with it. In his second call today, Paul insists that we must conform to Christ, rather than to this world. It is only when we have offered ourselves completely to God, that we can conform to Christ. Conformity to Christ means, living like Christ.
It means, participating in his life and death, with our eyes fixed on his glory. It means that, Christ now lives and works in us through the Holy Spirit (Gal 2:20). This was what the glorious saints did. They submitted, and conformed to Christ by participating in his life, death, and resurrection. Now, they participate in His glory.
In today’s gospel, we see the irony of life. The same Peter who proclaimed that Christ is the messiah last week, is today rebuked as “Satan.” Christ simply rebuked him for being an obstacle to his mission. This shows that though, Peter professed that Christ is the Messiah (as God revealed it to him), yet, he has not fully understood the nature of Christ’s mission.
He still sees it only from the perspective of royalty and glory. Of course, he was eager to participate in these. This also teaches us that, we are all vulnerable to making mistakes and falling, no matter how spiritual we are. So, this calls for taking seriously, the admonition of Paul: “Let him who thinks he stands, take heed lest he falls” (1 Cor 10:12).
Peter could not understand why Christ should be talking this way. However, God’s call is not only about, and participating in his glory, it is also participating first in his suffering. This is what Christ did. That He offered himself as a living sacrifice, means that he submitted everything without reluctance for our salvation. Yet, Peter has not realized the necessity of Christ’s death, that “it is better for one man to die for the people, than to have the whole nation destroyed.” (Jn 11:50).
The hope that comes from today’s Gospel is this: that which is difficult can also be good. When Jesus says to his disciples that they must take up their cross and follow him, he is not assigning them a punishment. He is offering the assurance that when they take up a difficult part of life and carry it as a cross after Jesus, it need not destroy them. In fact, it can have the power to strengthen them and open them more to life.
Let us have the energy, strength, and courage to face the suffering in our life with the hope that comes from God and he will lead us to victory. Amen.
Father A Francis HGN