BY: Fr. Gerald M. Musa

Sometime ago, I met a mother who has a child that is mentally retarded and for 20 years she took the best care of him. She said to me, “Jason, appears to be the cross that the Lord has given me in life. At first it was a difficult cross to carry, but with the passage of time, I was able to see that he is no longer a cross but a blessing.” She went on, “If I was to come back to the world the second time, I would ask God to give me another Jason.” She added, “Even though he is mentally retarded I could see in him at all times the perfect example of human innocence. I can see the hand of God working constantly with me in giving him support. I have offered myself totally and completely as a living sacrifice for the welfare of Jason and in doing so, I have experienced the power of God supporting me.”

Very often we hear about the tradition of offering sacrifice in the Old Testament and a sacrifice is an offering made to God in atonement for sin. In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul urges them to offer their ‘bodies as a living sacrifice’ (Romans 12:1). This kind of offering is a total self-giving for the service of God and people. Total self- giving implies offering God and others nothing less than the best of us. The story of Cain and Abel illustrates how God accepts only an unblemished offering and a sacrifice that is offered whole-heartedly (Genesis 4; Deuteronomy 15:21; Leviticus 22:20; Deuteronomy 17:1). While Abel offered his best sacrifice to God and it was accepted, Cain offered the least offering to God and it was rejected.

An offering can be material, such as giving out from our resources as the people of Israel gave one tenth of what they harvested by way of tithing; many people today dedicate ten per cent of their income to the Church and to charitable organisations. An offering of one tenth of what we spend weekly can make a huge difference in the growth of the church or some charitable organisations. Offering self as living sacrifice could also mean giving of one’s total self, time, and energy in the commitment toward the growth of our families, growth of the community in which we belong.

In the story of Jeremiah we can see how total- self giving to others comes with a price. Jeremiah was one who was sent by God to preach to his people to turn away from their evil way and come back to God. Jeremiah was totally committed to serving the people whom he loved, but his message was not well received. He was criticised and insulted by the people and several times they made an attempt to take away his life. Jeremiah became so discouraged in giving himself to the community and he complained and was contemplating giving up the assignment entrusted to him. He exclaimed, All the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me.

The word of the LORD has brought me derision and reproach all the day. I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more (Jeremiah 20:7-9).

Paul urges the Romans and every follower of Christ to offer the body as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1). The Apostle Paul had paid the price in offering himself as a living sacrifice for the service of different communities and in spreading the word of God. He spoke of his experience thus:
I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked (2 Corinthians 11:23-27).

In addition, when Jesus told his disciples he would offer his own body as a sacrifice for the salvation of the world. The disciples could not think of their Lord and master going through suffering and dying in the hands of his enemies. They thought that would be a great disgrace upon his name and a sign of weakness. This is why Peter took Jesus aside and said: “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” And Jesus sternly rebuked Peter: “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me.

You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

Where did Peter go wrong? How is it that he who was called The Rock turned out to be a stumbling block? It is true that he loved Christ and would not want anything bad to happen to him. It is true that those who love us would not want to see anything evil happen to us. Peter was trying to protect Jesus from the shame of the cross, but in doing so he was standing against the will of God.

Jesus says the way of the cross is essential for our salvation and anyone who wants to be his follower must take up his cross and follow him. Today, many preachers are downplaying the message of the cross. The modern day Gospel of prosperity says: “once you are a Christian everything becomes perfect for you and suffering, poverty, pain and sorrows disappear from you and riches and comfort come in.” This is not true. The scripture boldly says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). In another instance Paul confidently declares: “but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23).

Sometimes, when we are under the heavy burden of the cross of life, we shout out to God: “Lord, take away this cup from me”, but we must also add, “Let not my will, but yours be done.” The way of the cross and the way of the world seem to be two opposing forces. The way of the cross is the way of Jesus; the way of the world is my own way. Naturally, we tend to oppose anything that will bring us the slightest inconvenience in our lives, but Jesus says: suffering and self- sacrifice have some values for our spiritual growth.

Have you ever been mocked or suffered some public disgrace or been criticised, insulted, or discouraged for doing something good? I have come across people who never give up in offering themselves and services to others even in the midst of the most uncharitable criticisms. Self-sacrifice is an on going offering of self to God and for the sake of others.
JEREMIAH 20:7-9;
ROMANS 12:1-2;
MATTHEW 16:21-27
22nd Sunday of the Year.

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