31 August 2008. 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jeremiah 20, 7-9; Psalm 63; Romans 12; Matthew 16, 21-27
In the first reading, Jeremiah lamented to Yahweh. He used a very bold word about Yahweh: “You duped me! And I let myself be duped!” Niloko mo ako, at nagpaloko din ako! He added, “You were too strong for me, and you triumph!” The verb, pata, means ‘to seduce’.
What was the background of Jeremiah’s lamentation? Jeremiah urged Israel to turn back to God and to obey the covenant they forged in Mt. Sinai. If they didn’t, Israel will be captured by Babylon and would send its inhabitants into exile. Thus, Jeremiah believed that Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, would therefore be an agent of Yahweh who would enforce the punishment, unless Israel reformed. But Pashhur, the priest and leader of the Temple, opposed and imprisoned him. For Jeremiah, the experience was humiliating. When he was released, Jeremiah told Pashhur that his family and friends will be captured and exiled (Jeremiah 20, 6). Click here for news article on archaelogical findings about Passhur, the son of Immer.
But Yahweh for Jeremiah was too strong for him to resist. Despite the ridicule he encountered in proclaiming God’s word and the temptation to withdraw from his mission, the Lord remained to be a consuming fire, “like a fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it” (20, 9).
Many lives had been witnesses to the truth of Jeremiah’s lament. We began our love affair with God with an inspiring event, when the experience of God was deeply felt. Perhaps it was a retreat, a liturgy, or an extraordinary event. It could be the experience of love, of beauty, of childbirth, of being saved from possible destruction. Like Jeremiah, we were thus ‘seduced’ by God. From these experiences, we resolved to be at the service of God and to lead a life committed in faith. Only to realize that that was just the first part of the package.
Discipleship covered the cross too. We soon saw that the Church was beset with scandals and division. We discovered the warts in a religious group and found that the greatest cross was living with a community. Many saints who were members of religious orders affirmed this. And when we began to do our work as missionaries or as plainly as a good Christian in the workplace, we encountered fellow Christians who made our life difficult and unbearable. Those who humiliate us were often fellow Christians who might have claimed being at the service of the same God.
However, how many persevered? The churches where there is greatest persecution flourish. Think China and Latin America. The more their zeal grew when challenged. They said that love flourishes when tested by fire. Our ‘cloud of witnesses’ (the saints and heroes) testifies to this.
There is something else. God is experienced as a consuming fire. I know of many people who have felt the urge to serve God, but ran away in fear. They have tried avoiding the question about their vocations, only to be ‘seduced’ once again at a certain point in their lives. Indeed, we cannot escape God. He is too strong for us to resist.
To me, God is someone too beautiful even to let go.