Homily (2) 22nd Sunday of Year A: Fr. Michael U. UdoekpoReadings: Jer 20:7-9; Ps 63:2-9; Rom 12:1-2 and Matthew 16:21-27
Trusting God during pains and sorrows
“My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God,” (Ps 63:2b). This exquisite Psalm 63 captures the theme and the spirit of today’s Bible Readings and worship; namely “Confidence and Trust in God, even in times of pains and sorrows". Psalm 63 is a prayer of trust and a hymn of intimacy with God.
Truly, there are moments in our lives that God seems to be too far away. It is such moments that Psalmist refers to, through in metaphor, when he says, “earth, or land, parched, lifeless and without water,” (v.2). In those moments, we are called to look into the sanctuary of history. We are called to appreciate what God has done for us in the past. And realize that God is ever present with us (vv.3-6).
Experiences of temporary frustrations, agonies, pains and sorrows are not new. Jeremiah, Paul and our Lord Jesus Christ, had their shares. Jeremiah, of all Israel’s prophets, is the one who suffered most and who was often publicly rejected. He was once placed in stocks (Jer 20:1-2). He was put on trial by priests who demanded his death (26:10-11). Priests demanding the death of a prophet of God. Jeremiah was banished from the Temple (Jer 36:5), because of fearless preaching (Jer 7; 26). Jeremiah together with his friend Baruch were often made to go into hiding (Jer 36:19). Jeremiah was arrested, beaten and imprisoned (Jer 37:12-16). He experienced house arrest (Jer 37:20-21) and life in a muddy cistern (Jer 37:1-6). Of course, Jeremiah was human. His pains, frustrations and sorrows often led Jeremiah to complain.
The first reading of today is one of such complaints: “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; every one mocks at me.” Have you ever been laughed at? Have you ever been mocked? These are the parched lands, and the lifeless earths, without water of Jeremiah and the Psalmist.. But the good news is that Jeremiah like the Psalmist channeled their complaint and worries directly to God their trusting God, in prayer.
It was not all that easy for Saint Paul in all his travels and preaching of the Good News of Christ. Like Jeremiah, he was beaten, tried, rejected and imprisoned here and there. But Paul’ attitude to all these is evident in his Letter to the Romans (12:1-2). He says, “Brothers and sisters, I urge you, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.”
It is such sacrifices that Christ reminded is disciples of, in today’s Gospel, Matthew 16:21-27. After Peter’s Confession of the divinity of Christ in Caesarea Philippi. Jesus praised and blessed Peter. He gave the keys of the Church to Peter, but went on to explain that he has to go up in order to suffer in Jerusalem, be killed and on the third day be raised. The disciples did not understand this type of talk. They are at a different level. But Christ insists, “Whoever wishes to come after him, must deny himself/herself, take up his or her cross and follow him.”
This call to self-denial explains the parched land and the lifeless earth, the waterless planet of the psalmist. This explains the duping and the frustration of Jeremiah. It explains the call to “spiritual worship,” of Paul. Ultimately, it explains the fact that our relationship with God must go beyond the material level; from earthly kingdom to the heavenly kingdom. It is with prayers, deeper trusting, constant longing and thirsting for God, that our pains, illness, tribulations, frustrations, rifts and misunderstandings, can be handled.
As we brave our daily crosses,personal trials, agonies or of seeming lifelessness and dryness, our lives must not exclude our concern for others. The more intimate we are with God, the closer we are called to be charitable to God’s extended families and our neighbors. And in our personal prayers to our God with whom we trust, we must seek to make our sense of this divine trust a reality, particularly to our neighbors, and troubling world, in general.