Speaking personally, as some of you know I have been a bit ill lately. I have been suffering with symptoms of fairly heavy vertigo plus a back injury – and quite honestly, when you are trying to pray the mass in front of 250 people when you are dizzy and in pain, that can turn into all-out panic. Those of you who have had panic attacks know exactly what I am talking about, and those of you who do not know what I am talking about – then thank God that you don’t know what I am talking about. I told my mother about my symptoms and she said that when she was about my age she went through a period of time when my little brother was just an infant (and I was about 5 years old) where she was so dizzy that when she heard Danny crying at night, she had to CRAWL across the hall to feed him and keep him quiet. Basically, y’all, I think that was my sweet, mild, mother’s kindof June-Cleaver way of telling me to “suck it up.”
Thanks Mom. 🙂
So if my mother can crawl across a hall to feed my little brother than I guess I can crawl across this altar to feed you the body of Christ. So here we go, alright?
DID GOD DUPE ME????
Sometimes when God presents us with a mission in life or some seemingly insurmountable problem, we get a little belligerent. Maybe we have become a parent, or started taking care of a child we never thought we would have to take care of, or we are dealing with a seemingly impossible family member or neighbor or co-worker, or we started some new job or project that has seemingly been DUMPED on our lap and we find ourselves saying:
“HEY GOD, I NEVER ASKED FOR THIS? WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME?” Ever felt that way? Am I the only one?
Please understand that you are not alone.
Imagine for a moment a child – maybe about 12 years old. The child is a generally good-hearted child – intelligent and generally well-behaved; but maybe, just maybe, a little SPOILED. As a parent, you have finally decided that this child has matured enough to start being given some significant chores around the house, so you sit down and have that famous little “come to Jesus” talk that we all know so well. And very often, what does the child do first? The child is actually is angry to be given responsibilities. The child actually throws a bit of a tantrum when you introduce her to a vision of what it means to be an adult.
And here’s the point: God the Father often has the exact same little talk with us in his own way, and we often throw the same tantrum that the 12 year old throws. That is exactly what we hear in our first reading. The prophet Jeremiah is actually throwing a temper tantrum with God about being called to be a prophet. With that in mind, listen to that first line again and see if it makes more sense to you:
“You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped;
you were too strong for me, and you triumphed.
All the day I am an object of laughter;
everyone mocks me.” (Jeremiah 20:7)
Ever felt like God has almost tricked you into doing something? Well, you are not alone. Jeremiah is one of the greatest prophets who has ever lived, so you are in good company.
Jeremiah had been commanded by God to give a very harsh message to the king and to the people that unless they straightened up, they were going to be destroyed. As a matter of fact, it looked like God has already decided that he was so angry that he was going to send the Babylonians against them to destroy them. And that’s actually what God did. That’s not a popular message, and nobody wanted to hear it. But Jeremiah was called to deliver it all the same, and because of fulfilling that mission, Jeremiah had to suffer.
We get the same kind of belligerence from Peter, the first Pope, in the gospel that we heard. The gospel specifically says, “Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised (Matt 16:21).” Jesus is just starting to introduce his apostles into the real deal – into what is really going to happen. At this point, they were probably expecting to be princes of the tribes of Israel when Jesus proclaimed himself King. They had dreams about how they expected all this to turn out. And those dreams were rudely shattered by this seemingly crazy announcement from their Messiah. What are you talking about, Jesus? You’re going to be killed? Raised from the dead? My friends, we already know the story so we aren’t as shocked by it, but at this point they had no clue this was going to happen, so imagine how it must have sounded to them!
Have you ever thought that your life and your dreams were going to look a certain way, and then had that rudely altered by circumstances beyond your control?
Again, you are in good company. All the apostles felt that way, too. What am I trying to suggest? What I am trying to suggest is that if you feel at all this way, then maybe you are doing something RIGHT instead of doing something WRONG. I cannot tell you that for sure. It is possible that you have gotten yourself into a mess that God really didn’t make. But it is also possible that God has sat you down – just like that 12 year old – and started to tell you that things are going to be different from now on, and you haven’t really made peace with that fact yet.
And that is what is key, my friends: Making peace with this message. Because the 12 year old usually makes peace with growing up. Jeremiah finally accepted his calling and went through with it. The apostles finally accepted the words of their Messiah, although with much fear and even a little betrayal. But they DID make peace with it. Especially after Pentecost. They made so much peace with it that they all marched to martyrdom with songs of praise and thanksgiving on their lips. How much peace are WE making with what God has asked us to do in our lives?
Above all, we need to be very wary against that voice in our heads that says: It can’t be this way. This is too hard. This is too crazy. God would never ask me to do this. Because Jesus DID tell us that we had to deny ourselves, pick up our own cross daily and follow him. That is pretty straightforward, difficult message to take. But it isn’t as if he hasn’t sent us the memo that life might get a bit weird and harsh sometimes. When Peter heard Jesus’s news, he pulled him aside and said, “God forbid that any such thing happen to you.” Peter had gotten that exactly wrong – God did not forbid Jesus to die, he COMMANDED him to die. And what did Jesus respond? “Get thee behind me, Satan.” Satana in Aramaic is the word for “my enemy.” Thus, it is a good word for the devil. What is a real enemy? The real enemy is the one who tries to stop you from fulfilling your mission in life. The real enemy is the one who puts stumbling blocks in front of you so that you fail to become the person you were meant to be. And this is what Peter was doing to Jesus. And Jesus wasn’t going to tolerate it.
Have you acted like Peter with another person, saying “God forbid that you go through this trial?” How do you know that? Are you just being selfish? Have you really prayed about what you are saying? Have you acted like Peter with yourself, throwing tantrums against your mission in life and saying “God forbid this ever happen to me?” Maybe there is more of that 12 year old in us than we thought, and maybe there’s a little more of that mistaken St. Peter in our hearts than we thought.
But we also need to realize that if the difficult trial that we find ourselves in is from God, it will also come with some peace, some sense of meaning, and some joy. It will not be all bad or without its gifts and blessings. But sometimes finding those blessings takes a little prayer and work to discover them. But they are there – if your trial is from God.
Are you finding life is difficult now? Have some of your dreams turned out very differently than you ever expected or wanted? You are in good company, my friends. Maybe – just maybe – you are exactly where God wants you to be. We just need the grace to make a little more peace with where our cross has taken us on the long and winding road to our eternal home…