Today in our first reading Jeremiah laments the fact that God has enticed (tricked) him into doing what God wants. Doing what God wants has been difficult because his friends and people that he has known have mocked him, rejected him, and abused him. Even his own efforts to disconnect from God have left him empty, weary, burnt out and burnt up. Nothing satisfies him.
If we thought the gospel for today would bring us a little relief we were sadly mistaken because Jesus tells the disciples he is heading to Jerusalem where he will suffer and be killed by – wait for it – the Elders, the priests and the scribes – the religious leaders of the day, the very people who should be supporting him!
The grim news does not stop there. Peter wants to save his friend Jesus from this suffering and death he is talking about. He takes Jesus away and says, “Hey, this cannot happen! We need to change directions here because we need you alive.” Jesus tells him to step away, he is acting like the evil one and not a child of God.
Jesus has more grim news. Jesus tells his disciples that if they want to follow him, they had better get ready to carry their cross. If they want to save their life, they better prepare to lose it. If they choose success according to the vision of the world they will in fact be giving up their life.
There is a little consolation at the end of the Gospel today. Jesus tells us that God will reward those who make the sacrifice to follow Jesus.
In his letter to the Christians at Rome, Paul reminds them that they are to give their whole self to God. This is what worship is all about – giving of yourself. Taking up space in a house of prayer – regardless of how regular you do it, is not enough. We need to put our words into action. Paul warns the Christians not to be drawn in by the way the world measures success – slowly renew and grow your connection to Christ so that you can discern what is good, acceptable and perfect – what is God’s will!
As I prayed with these texts I thought – wow – heavy stuff for the last Sunday of August!
In actual fact, Scripture is clear today – nurturing a relationship with God is not easy work. Being a follower of Jesus is not easy work. Figuring out what God wants is not easy work.
So how do we follow Jesus, nurture our relationship with God and figure out what God wants/expects from us.
First of all, our lives are intimately linked to the life of God. We come from God and we will return to God. Jeremiah had a choice – God called and Jeremiah said yes and he continued to say yes, even though his life was disrupted and difficult. Jeremiah nurtured his relationship with God even as he complained about what God was asking him to do. Time and time again Jeremiah looked for God, returned to God and worked hard to do what God wanted him to do. We nurture our relationship with God by turning to God over and over again – in the good times and in the not so good times.
Secondly, being a follower of Jesus, standing alongside Jesus means going into difficult places – it means suffering, it means carrying our crosses while our friends try to avoid them. It means teaching ourselves how to love unconditionally. It means loving the other when our friends say, ‘don’t go there’.
This is not about being reckless or foolish, it is about choosing to be kind, to forgive, to encourage others when many say do not do it!
Here in Western Canada that might mean reaching out to support immigrants and refugees rather than engaging in racist and self-serving words and actions. It might mean befriending men and women who are Muslim, Metis or Indigenous and speaking up for them and speaking with them to governments, organizations and political movements that choose to nurture unjust policies and behaviors. It might mean supporting initiatives that protect our environment when others dismiss the impact of climate change. It might mean supporting LGBQT people and initiatives when some Church leaders and political organizations urge us to reject them. It might mean speaking up when our Church and Government leaders ignore the rights of women to jobs, just wages and a voice at the table where decisions are made. It might mean choosing to educate our children in the faith and engaging in Sunday worship when others suggest our spiritual journey is not that important. It might mean protecting someone’s reputation when others are spreading false information on social media and nurturing hatred. Every day we have the chance to take up our cross.
Thirdly, God works slowly. We are all about speed. We want quick results and God works slowly. Paul talks about the slow transformation of the human person in his letter to the Romans. If I continue to read sacred scripture and pray with sacred scripture, if I spend time with the poor, if I seek out the lost and listen to them, I am going to be changed. I am going to notice my attitudes and behaviors change. My words become less harsh, less rigid, less accusatory. I will notice my words becoming more encouraging, more positive, and much, much kinder!
Following Jesus, nurturing our God relationship and doing that which is good, acceptable and perfect means living intentionally every day. From time to time we will hear people criticize us as Catholics/Christians. They criticize us because they notice a discrepancy between what we say and what we do. From time to time we will hear the news media critique us as Catholics/Christians because of what we say and what we do, what we do not say and what we do not do. We tend to get mad and we feel singled out because of our faith.
People and the news media who critique us and point out our failures are doing us a favor when they call us out because of our discrepancies and our behavior. They are helping us to sharpen our focus. Does it hurt? Yes! Is it good for us? Oh yes! We need encouragement AND we need the words of our critics. They help us purify our thoughts and our actions.
This week listen to those people who profess to be atheists, non-believers, those people who dislike Catholics and critique us. Let their words touch our lives and help us to be ever more faithful disciples. Let us continue to be kind to those who have power over our lives! Let us be kinder yet to those who are poor! Kindness will help us to choose what is good, acceptable, and perfect. Kindness will help us to be better followers of Jesus, will help us nurture our God relationships and kindness will help us discern what is God’s will.
Fr. Doug Jeffrey, OMI