The first Reading, (Jer 20:7-9), presented us with some of the struggles of Jeremiah as a prophet of the Lord. We recall that during his call as a prophet, (Jer 1:4-19), he was informed by the Lord that He knew him before his conception and, preceding his birth, He had consecrated him and appointed him a prophet. He was given authority over nations and kingdoms, “to uproot and pull down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”
Jeremiah who loved his people, had to proclaim to them the inconvenient truth that there were consequences for idolatry, killing, stealing, and maltreating strangers. He felt a contradiction within himself whilst proclaiming the word of God. On one hand, he did not want evil to befall on the people of Israel; on the other hand, he had no option but to announce to them that calamity was on their doorstep unless they repented of their evil ways. Each time Jeremiah chose not to prophesy because of the pejorative words being used against him by the Israelites, and the negativity of the content of his message which he described as “violence and ruin” against his people; he felt an irresistible fire burning in his heart, he had no choice but to keep on proclaiming the Lord’s truths because the Lord had seduced him with His Mighty Power.
In the second Reading, (Rm 12:1-2), St Paul invited us to worship the Lord by offering our bodies as living sacrifices pleasing to Him. We offer our bodies as living sacrifice to the Lord by allowing the mind that was in Jesus Christ to be in us and realising that nothing will ever outweigh the supreme advantage of knowing Christ our Lord, (Phil 3:7-9).
The Gospel, (Mt 16:21-27), is a continuation of last Sunday’s passage in which Peter declared Jesus as, “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus was pleased with Peter’s declaration. He promised to build His church on the faith proclaimed by Peter, and he installed Peter as the leader of that church.
Now that the mystery of His being as the Christ of God, that is, the Messiah has been laid bare by Peter’s pronouncements; Jesus began to instruct His apostles on the full import of being the Messiah. In His teaching, He demonstrated to them that though the Scriptures said glorious things about the Messiah, which included being called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace whose sovereignty would have no end, (Is 9:6-7); it also contain prophesies that the Messiah would be the suffering servant of God.
Isaiah had documented about the Messiah that, “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone stray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all,” (Is 53:4-9).
Jesus in expounding God’s plan for Him to redeem the world, informed His disciples unequivocally that He was that suffering servant of the Lord and that the Lord had destined Him “ to go to Jerusalem and suffer grievously at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, to be put to death and to be raised up on the third day.” This was shocking news to his followers especially Peter, whose idea of a Messiah was a political leader who would dethrone the Roman occupiers, (Acts 1:6-7). Peter took Jesus aside and made it clear to Him that He should recant His words about the Messiah being the suffering servant of the Lord. Jesus rebuked Peter, for though he meant well for Him, but at this juncture, he was operating purely at the human level devoid of divine insight.
Just as we pray in ‘Our Father’ that the will of God be done, so, must we follow Jesus who aligned His will with that of God during His temptation in the wilderness and at the Garden of Gethsemane and, who committed His Spirit to the Father on the Cross.
Like Jeremiah in the first Reading, Jesus would not shrink away from His responsibility as the Messiah. He was willing to carry His cross daily as He journeyed to His destiny. He invites us to carry our cross daily and follow Him. One’s cross may be a family feud or unemployment, or sickness, or addiction to gambling or drugs, or lack of friends, or pains of isolation, or bereavement, or betrayal, or not being believed.
Whatever our cross might me, let us offer them to Jesus as a living sacrifice. Amen.
Fr Chinua Okeke CSSp