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Ordinary Time 22 (A)
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Readings for the Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

1. Jeremiah 20, 7-9

  • I can hear the prophet’s disenchantment at the way he has been treated.  You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped.  Do holy men of God really talk openly like this, or did he record it in a diary?  Either way, I will speak the words in their original spirit and in the context of the entire passage.
  • All the day I am an object of laughter.  If I had a persecution complex I might feel that way and I might even say it aloud.  We know that Jeremiah kept on saying his warnings and irritating those in power.  He said things about the fate of Israel that they did not want to hear.
  • The word of the Lord has brought me … How do I fill in the blank?  In my own case, would I say fulfillment?  Or applause?  Or fame?  Or maybe just the indifference of the congregation?  If I measure my ministry by Jeremiah’s ruler, it would be derision and reproach.  Twice pastors have removed me from their parish lector roster for the way I read, and I remember the outrage I felt, as well as the shame for my lack of leverage in that situation.  It will take some work to recover that feeling.  In practice, I think we usually battle the wide indifference of our church and our own indifference toward what we do. 
  • I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more.  The true prophet will be tempted like this.  The world’s nations, indeed the members themselves of the church, prefer soothing words to the hard sayings I seem to find everywhere I look in the scriptures.  So why subject myself to them?
  • Climax: Here are the words that show why there is any tension at all.  It becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones.  I do it not because I am a sadist but because I care about my church and all those I love who pray with me there.  If I don’t feel the tension, then how can I do justice to the passage?
  • Message for our assembly: We should be disappointed, even angry, if the word of the Lord comes out sugar and spice week after week.  If the prophet is true to the word, we should be hearing violence and outrage frequently.
  • I will challenge myself: To live in my reading the passion that drove Jeremiah to his scream of pain.

 

2. Romans 12, 1-2

  • Here is another short passage, on which I am going to take my time.
  • The reading builds positive images of our calling: offering, sacrifice, renewal of your mind, good and pleasing and perfect. 
  • The apostle presents only one negative image, and I can use it to contrast with the others.  Do not conform yourselves to this age.  His first readers knew all about the dissolute life style all around them, and about their calling to reject that.  But the message also speaks to our time, with its creature comforts and the self-indulgence that it urges on us.
  • Discern what is the will of God.  He does not lay out the details of that will but tells them to work it out for themselves.  It is one more reason that the reading speaks to us as we try to work out the intentions of God for us today.
  • Central point: We dedicate, we consecrate ourselves to God.  This is what Jesus’ life and death means for us: a pro-active response.
  • The message for our assembly: The apostle’s appeal has not lost any of its urgency.  The temptation to fit in, to go along with our own age is strong.  There is too much at stake financially and emotionally to buck the current, whether that current be social affluence, or complacency and resignation in the face of dug-in and unresponsive political and church structures.
  • I will challenge myself: To find the right pace in reading and tone of voice that makes the short passage come alive and strike home.

 

Gospel. Matthew 16, 21-27

  • God’s ways were strange to the disciples and they should be to us today.  So Jesus is confessed as the Messiah.  How could it follow then that he must suffer greatly and be killed?  I could use some irony in my voice as I read this.  How can I possibly read it like a news bulletin, as if it did not matter to me?
  • I know the heady exchange between Jesus and Peter, and most of my listeners do also.  First Peter: God forbid, Lord!  No such thing shall ever happen to you.  I will emphasize ‘ever.’ 
  • Then Jesus: You are an obstacle to me.  I will say it as if Jesus is asking him to realize it: Don’t you know that…   You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.  I am reminded of today’s second reading.
  • The second half of the passage presents the hard sayings.  But they represent the vintage Jesus.  His way is not an extraordinary way that was destined for him alone.  His way is the norm for whoever wishes to come after me. 
  • Each saying repeats the message of the previous one: deny himself leads to whoever loses his life and on to its contrary: gain the whole world and forfeit his life.  So the church insists on this truth of our lives and makes no excuses.  Now my turn comes to insist on it and I will drive it home.
  • Climax: What profit?  Everyone has seen this happen on a human scale, how the famous ones of the world fall so quickly from public favor. 
  • Message for our assembly: This hard saying is directed to his disciples, and those who have succeeded them, that is, all of us. 
  • I will challenge myself: To avoid pounding out a message already heard many times.  The world has plenty of practice at blasting its attack ads at our ears.  If I am going to reach my listeners today I will need to find the voice of Jesus as it repeats in a more trying context: Follow me.  At one time we follow him into unseen adventure, as in a modern legend.  Then later we follow him into undesirable places where we could lose all.  As long as he is there in his Father’s glory, right? 

Word to Eucharist: As we approach the table, do we form part of the establishment?  Is the Jesus we seek comfortable at the right hand of God?  Or is he rather leading us in the struggle for the kingdom?  Let us find him where he is.

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