YEAR A: HOMILY FOR THE 22ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
HOMILY THEME: If Anyone Wants to Follow Me
BY: Fr. Luke Ijezie
HOMILY: Jer 20:7-9; Psalm 63:2-9; Rom 12:1-2; Matt 16:21-27.
- Worshiping God is a life commitment and a joyful thing, but it is never an easy task. God never says that if you serve Him, everything will be well with you. This is only the false idea of many modern day flamboyant worshipers and prosperity Gospel preachers. In fact, the book of Sirach puts it the other way: “My child, if you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal” (Sir 2:1). While serving the Lord is a very joyful and rewarding experience, it is full of trials and pains. This is well emphasized in all the readings of today. The true worshiper, thego true prophet, the true disciple must be ready to suffer greatly in order to succeed in the ministry and apostolate.
In the first reading from Jer 20:7-9, the prophet Jeremiah laments his miserable life as a servant of God. His ministry exposes him to all sorts of insult and opposition. Since he cannot see evil and injustice and keep quiet, he must shout always to the indignation of many and danger to his own life. Since he is drawn by a higher force, he cannot abandon the terrible job. That is why he cries out to God in a rather pathetic tone: “O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me.” Jeremiah, based on his portrait in the Scriptures, is regarded as a weeping prophet, and he suffered terribly because of the hard message he proclaimed. He was often disappointed that God did not come readily to confront his enemies and prevent them from torturing him. Despite all these, he remained faithful to the end. His is the lot of many prophets and preachers of the word of truth.
The second reading from Rom 12:1-2 proposes a new form of sacrifice that explains the very essence of Christianity. This is self-sacrifice. It means surrendering one’s life totally to God. It implies complete purification of one’s mind and senses from the values of the world that are contrary to God’s will. The prescribed detachment from worldly ways is a very painful process. It involves offering oneself totally for the service of God and humanity. This is the way every Christian is called to live. It is called sacrificial love. How wonderful the world and society would be if everyone lived just to make life better for his or her neighbor! It means that the greed, conflict and violence that adorn our society would immediately give way to overwhelming benevolence, peace and overflowing joy.
The Gospel text from Matthew 16:21-27 enjoins the intending disciple to first count the cost of discipleship. Following Jesus is a committed action, and one must decide to accept all the concomitant hazards. We find this in the drama between Jesus and Peter. Jesus announces his suffering destiny: he would suffer many things in the hands of the local leaders and be killed, though he would rise after dying. But Peter, like most modern day followers, does not like the idea of suffering. Naturally, nobody does. For Peter, suffering would not be the portion of Jesus; death would not be his portion. This is actually the contemporary message of many self-styled Christians. But Jesus rejects this ideology totally and severely. He calls Peter Satan, which here means an adversary. Peter is standing on his way to victory. So Peter must get behind and not in front. Jesus is the leader, and his own approach is the one to follow. Peter’s idea of a Crossless Christianity or a religion without suffering is not the idea that should lead the way. Those who think like Peter in this context must subject their ideas to that of Jesus. It is instructive that at this point Jesus makes it clear that if anyone wants to follow him he must first deny himself. In other words, one who intends to follow Jesus must surrender his or her own ideas and embrace only the ideas and ways of Jesus, the Master. If the Master, who is the leader, carries the Cross, there is no other way to reach the goal. One happy thing is that the end is a glorious one. Gaining the whole world, enjoying all pleasures and losing one’s soul is the most stupid thing anyone can do. So, the intending follower must stop and reflect.
The fact of suffering in the Christian life is one that continues to agitate many minds. Many find it difficult to assimilate the idea that one who follows a miracle-working Jesus would be allowed to suffer. This is one of the greatest threats to our modern practice of the Christian faith in the African context. It is not that one should continue to create situations of pain and suffering where they are not needed or do not exist. Not at all! From that point of view, Jesus came to alleviate our pains, and, in fact, every Christian must work to rid the world and society of pain and suffering. The irony, however, is that in the genuine process of working for a better and happier world, one inevitably encounters opposition and suffering. This is what Jesus was actually telling his disciples and Peter. Eliminating suffering is good and noble, but we should be ready to suffer in the process of fighting against all the factors and forces that bring suffering. This is what love is all about. It expresses itself in self-sacrifice for the welfare of others. Jesus offered himself that we may live and calls us to keep offering ourselves everyday that others may live.
Fr. Luke Ijezie