Homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
They’re certainly not easy; they take work-in fact a lot of work; they require a serious commitment and effort; they can never be taken for granted and if neglected they will fade away. What I am talking about of course are relationships. Relationships in committed couples, families, work families and friends. Relationships, whatever their design are important. This, of course, includes our relationship with our God.
In the First Reading, Jeremiah wrestles in private with his relationship with God; the demands of being God’s prophet. For him, it’s was a constant strain from delivering unpopular messages that resulted in abuse, ridicule and eventually in his murder at the hands of his own people. So, Jeremiah is journaling, writing down these struggles with God. Jeremiah is upset with God… he’s is venting… it’s therapy for him. And yet, like the other prophets, Jeremiah’s writings and experiences found their way into Sacred Scripture and we are still hearing about it today. Jeremiah’s relationship with God was not an easy one but again, what relationship is?
Perhaps we at times, like Jeremiah, have a similar relationship with God… that we too struggle with a commitment with God, that the more we try, the more difficult it gets? At one moment we can relate to God, we feel God’s presence in our hearts and then at other times, God seems so far away. But that’s not God… God is always there for us… we’re the ones who put up the obstacles. Just as Peter did in today’s Gospel.
Last week, you may remember that Peter reveals who Jesus is, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And because of this proclamation of faith, Jesus gives him a new name, title… “Petras” or “rock,” and the keys to the heavenly realm. Truly Peter loved Jesus. He left his home, his boat, his livelihood to follow Jesus, for the rest of his life.
Today we hear Jesus share with his followers on what is to happen to him, that he will suffer and die. Yet it is Peter, ‘the rock’ the one with the keys who takes Jesus aside in private and says, “God forbid it… this must never happen to you…!” But Jesus says back to him, “Get behind me satan! You are a stumbling block to me… for you are not thinking as God does, but as humans do.” Wow… Peter, with the new title, “Rock” “Foundation of the Church” has been reduced to a ‘stumbling block’! What happened here? Relationships need to be free, but something in Peter, a negative force is trying to possess Jesus.
In Scripture class I remember a professor telling us that Jesus was not calling Peter satan. Peter doesn’t was Jesus to suffer… makes sense? Jesus knows that this idea of not to suffer is not from God but rather from the evil one. We know that life can get very hard and difficult-suffering is part of it. I have met so many people who suffered silently in so many ways: physically, mentally, socially, spiritually and financially to name but a few.
And yet following these harsh words to Peter, Jesus says something so beautiful: “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine (that is to be in relationship with me) let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.” Jesus is saying that little crosses and crucifixions are always part of our lives, especially as followers of Jesus. Look at those who take a stance on social justice issues, or those who become voice for the voiceless.
Or look how we will be asked to deny ourselves: what does that mean? I’ll give you some examples and we don’t have to look very hard: parent and grandparents who provide, sacrifice and worry about their kids; medical staff who work tirelessly around the clock caring for the sick and elderly. Did you see on the news about the doctor and nurses who chose to stayed put during Hurricane Laura in Louisiana to care for 19 babies in Neonatal ICU… not knowing about their own families or properties They definitely denied themselves for the well-being of the helpless ones. Or the teachers and administration who are about to return to the classroom. And yet, these essential workers have a relationship to fulfill. By fulfilling their call, they are fostering their own relationship with God.
My dear friends, both Jesus and Peter were very honest with each other… another integral way of building relationships. Sometimes we need to speak those hard-honest words to others, but only if they come from the heart. Again, that is not easy. If, however, the relationship is that important, love will always find a way around every obstacle.