Year A: 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

We are being invited to think like God not man - we need to reject the way the world thinks.

Three women praying

Jeremiah 20: 7-9; Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 16:21-27

‘You have seduced me Lord.’  How wonderful that to illustrate the nature and impact of the Divine-human relationship, Jeremiah uses the language of human love. Bearing the burden of the relationship came at a cost – yet the human partner cannot but speak out: ‘There seemed to be a fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones. The effort to restrain it wearied me, I could not bear it.’  He shares in some mystical way the agony of love which God bears for communion with his creation. Dialogue sometimes implies a sedate, civilised exchange of views – with little emotion or passion. But the dialogue between God and humanity is electrically charged here – like the lightning flashes which link earth and sky, the prophet as lightning conductor, or, as here, to the language of human sexual encounter.

Paul likewise packs into humble language his mystical insight and passion. He pleads with the Romans (‘I beg you!’) to lever them somehow into the revolution he knows has transformed the whole dynamic of the relationship between God and humanity: ‘… let your behaviour change, modelled by your new mind.’ Partnership with God demands a new mind, a new offering of one’s whole self as a sacrifice, a turning away from the world’s ways.  This alone will bring an understanding of what God wants. Incredible that Paul is convinced that human beings can come to know what God wants and hence, follow it. This is what is offered to those who can become partners with God – this is what the man Jesus modelled.

Dialogue made flesh or the “God-of-love-for-all made man” can end only in death or a life offered to the utmost demand made of it. Jesus has enough connection to, and experience of, not just being a partner in the Divine dialogue but being the dialogue himself – in his whole being, bone, blood and flesh – that he unflinchingly sees the trajectory of his life and wants to make that clear to his friends.  This seduction by love into love has a human ending, only able to be seen by one capable of knowing the nature of God as enduring an agony of love. This is not as the world sees it. The partnership can only be opened to those who have changed their behaviour and have new minds. Peter has not caught on yet! Jesus is sharp with him (St Augustine: ‘You wound us lest we die to you!: the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.)  

Then, the great lesson is tagged on, most appropriately, by Matthew.  The divine relationship plumbs new depths with us all. If anyone wants to follow Jesus, then that person must renounce self, take up the cross and follow him.  And then the enlightenment – try to save your life, and you will lose it; lose your life for my sake (for the sake of the immensity of the love of God for all), and you will find it!  It is that simple.  But this requires the realisation that we are being invited to think like God, not man; that we need to reject the way the world thinks; that we too must be ‘seduced’ by the love of God.  The entry into dialogue is a fraught business – it takes your life (daily derision as Jeremiah and all the other prophets experience); it involves a worship (a return of love) so exquisite that it can only be done by ‘offering your living bodies as a holy sacrifice’ (St Paul); it leads to suffering and death (Jesus) but (and here is the final curtain!): ‘The Son of Man is going to come in the glory of his Father with his angels and, when he does, he will reward each one according to his behaviour.’  Matthew and his community in the early Church take their first steps into the light of their experience of the resurrection.  They choose life – the life revealed only to those who have been seduced by the love of the God who lived in Jesus. That choice leads to the death of self and the new life of one who follows the cross.