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Breaking Open the Word

22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time 

September 3, 2023

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In the first reading, the prophet Jeremiah faced a crisis. It wasn’t a crisis of faith, it was a crisis of expectation. The Lord called Jeremiah to demonstrate his love through his service as God's holy prophet of judgment to his apostate countrymen. God called Jeremiah to his prophetic ministry in his youth. God warned Jeremiah about the price a prophet pays for speaking the words of God. However, Jeremiah discovered that it was a far more painful experience than he understood when he accepted his divine calling.

After Jeremiah experienced the ridicule and rejection of his countrymen, he blamed the Lord. The pain of his experience was not what he expected when God promised His protection, and he accused God of not preparing him for the suffering his prophetic ministry brought him. (God likes to only give us the 4 color glossy brochure when He sends us on a mission.) Jeremiah, however, did not reject his calling. He admitted that the Spirit of God within him was so strong that he could not deny his mission. God's prophetic word wells up within him until he cannot hold it back. Remember this passage when wanting to complain to God, but never losing faith in Him.

The Responsorial Psalm is a prayer recalling David's suffering during the most lonely and fearful time in his life, when he was being hunted relentlessly for years by king Saul. But David doesn't reproach God for his painful experiences like Jeremiah. Instead, he trusts God to guide his life and places his destiny entirely in God's hands. David's (and Jeremiah’s) turbulent life teaches us that sometimes even those who are God's chosen are called to endure trials and failures. Suffering can be a test that builds faith or be a purifying experience, but in all cases the burden of the mental and physical pain endured by all of God's chosen ones has a place in the mystery of redemption.

The second reading makes 2 points:

1. Do not model your behavior on the contemporary world.

2. Let the Holy Spirit's renewing of your mind transform you.

In the first point, do not conform yourselves to the world, but to the will of God. How do we know how to form ourselves to the will of God? Keep the commandments and follow Jesus’ instruction. Read Matthew chapter 5-7, the sermon on the mount. However, like Jeremiah, we must be aware that this refusal to conform to the world's standard may bring ridicule and persecution.

Regarding the second point, Paul urged the Christians to transform themselves into the image of Christ and to offer their lives as a sacrifice for the sake of the Gospel. In living a life of sacrificial consecration, believers must discern what it is God requires of them. All Christians are under the obligation to seek the will of God in their lives. You cannot discern God's will for your life if sin has a hold on you. The Christian must discern God's will by being clothed in the garment of grace, committed to prayer, and seeking to determine the gifts and fruits they have received from the Holy Spirit. As in any gift, its genuine value can only be realized in the useful application of what has been received. Then, like Jeremiah, it becomes a burning fire in your heart which you cannot hold in.

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Gospel Explained

Matthew begins this passage as another turning point for Jesus, using the same words after Jesus was tempted by Satan, “From that time on...” Now that Peter has recognized Jesus as the Messiah, the serious instruction begins. This was the first of 3 predictions of His passion. In sharing this secret with the disciples, Jesus is correcting the common misperception that the Messiah is coming in triumph and glory to conquer Israel's enemies and re-establish the Davidic political kingdom on earth, a return to the past glory days of kings David and Solomon. Peter is still stuck in this perception.

Jesus' revelation of His suffering and death in fulfillment of Psalm 22 and Isaiah's prophecies of the Suffering Servant (Is 52:13-53:12) marks a new phase in Jesus' ministry. The very next gospel story is the Transfiguration where Jesus will show His 3 closest apostles His true glory, in the presence of the Father, Moses, and Elijah. Jesus repeatedly tells His Apostles they cannot share these revelations, because it will take His Resurrection from the dead for the Jews, and even His disciples, to come to believe in Him as the Messiah.

Jesus describes His incredulous fate in detail. The religious leaders, the supposedly good and holy people, will kill Him? How could that happen to the Messiah, the one they have been waiting for? He chose the words “be killed” and “be raised”, passive words that would require doing the will of the Father. And what good is a dead Messiah? They probably never heard His words about being raised on the third day. What is that, who could comprehend that? Peter’s rebuke is out of love for Jesus, he is actually asking God to prevent this from happening. But refer to Isaiah 40:13 “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” Jesus is ordering Peter back into his proper place. The Rock must not be a stumbling stone.

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Today's Theme

The theme for today is doing the will of the Father. This Sunday’s gospel is part of a thread woven through several related stories of Jesus in the gospels. We start with the temptation of Jesus by Satan (Matt 4:1-11). Satan is tempting Jesus to take the easy way out, to the ways of the world, which would never lead to His passion and our redemption. But Jesus ordered “Get away, Satan!”

The thread then weaves through last week’s gospel where Peter proclaims Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, and Jesus declares Peter the Rock on which He will build His church, and gives him the keys to the kingdom of heaven.

Threading on, Peter, who has just been highly honored by Jesus, in today’s reading “the Rock” decides, rather than following Jesus, to move ahead of the teacher and instruct Him by tempting Him away from this prediction of His passion and death. Jesus, in His strength of conviction in doing the will of the Father, replies “get behind me, Satan!”, recalling an earlier temptation.

In the next thread of the story, Jesus is in the garden of Gethsemane. In His weakest moment He is asking the Father to take away the very purpose of His mission. Good thing Peter was sleeping, but Satan never sleeps. But Jesus’ conviction in doing the will of the Father is strong enough to override His fear.

Immediately after He is arrested. And from weak to strong with the ultimate conviction to doing the Father’s will He tells the crowd “Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father and He will not provide at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels (72,000)? But then how would the scriptures be fulfilled which say that it must come to pass in this way?”

Ending this thread, in Peter’s old age he would write (1 Peter 2:8) about those without faith (quoting Isaiah), that they are “a stone that will make people stumble, and a ROCK that will make them fall. They stumble by disobeying the word, as is their destiny.” You can imagine he was thinking back on the gospel story of today.

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Theme in our Life Today

The “Son of Man coming with His angels in his Father’s glory” is a reference to the vision of the sixth century B.C. prophet Daniel who wrote: ”I saw One like a son of man coming on the clouds of heaven; when he reached the Ancient One and was presented before him, he received dominion, glory, and kingship; nations and peoples of every language serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away; his kingship shall not be destroyed” (Dan 7:13-14). Jesus will refer to this passage when answering the High Priest at His trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin, claiming that Daniel's vision refers to Him (Mt 26:64). At the time of His second coming and the Last Judgment, the judgment of humanity will depend on each person's deeds that are individual acts of righteousness demonstrated in works of mercy, as Jesus will explain in His discourse on the Last Judgment in Matthew 25:31-46.

Jesus’ invitation to discipleship calls for a radical response to the reality of His Cross. It was the unique sacrifice of Christ by which He united Himself to every man and woman ever born, offering the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery. He calls us to take up our crosses and follow Him, for to this we have been called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving an example that we should follow in his footsteps (read CCC 618). The devotion of the Virgin Mary is the best example of the kind of self-denying love that Jesus says is the mark of the true believer. The Blessed Virgin associated herself more intimately than any other person in the mystery of her Son's redemptive suffering. As St. Paul wrote: The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him (Romans 8:16-17).  Recalling the words of St. Rose of Lima: "Apart from the cross, there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven."

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Prepare for Sunday

1. In the spirit of Jeremiah’s words today, look for an opportunity this week to proclaim God in spite of the possibility of scorn and derision like he experienced.

2. Peter tried to prevent Jesus from doing the will of the Father. Don’t be like Peter.

3. Peter later went on to boldly proclaim the story of Jesus to everyone without regard to the persecutions that would follow. Be like Peter.

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