My friends, you may have noticed that there is a great deal of overlapping in the texts chosen today, and all seem to point to the message that to follow Jesus will not be easy, but like Jeremiah, once started on the path in faith-filled response to our loving God; there is no help for us, but to follow. Jeremiah said “yes” to God at a young age; he was naïve—he didn’t know what his “yes” would mean, much like any of us, making a commitment—he didn’t realize that there would be suffering, ridicule, heartache—he only knew that God had touched his heart and soul and that he must respond.
We can also think of our sister and the mother of Jesus, Mary of Nazareth in lieu of her feast day, August 15th as one who, in faith, like Jeremiah, said, “Yes” to her God, not knowing what that would mean.
Peter in today’s Gospel responds in the same way. Last Sunday we heard his proclamation of faith—“You are the Messiah, the First Born of God”—and now in this Gospel today, Jesus lets Peter and the others, as well as us, know what that will mean. Jesus will have to suffer and die—but he will rise! The same is true for us! Peter, being the perfectly human person that he was (remember, to be human, means, being imperfect), says, “No, you can’t let that happen!” Peter was impetuous—he loved his master, but he just didn’t get it—not yet anyway, and we can hardly blame him as he had no point of reference.
A couple of weeks ago; we talked about the fact that Jesus was completely human in dealing with the Canaanite woman, subject to all that we as humans are subject to—our culture, its mores, its beliefs, its prejudices. Jesus too struggled with his humanity just as we see Jeremiah struggling today with his—“You duped me, O God.” And Jesus in Gethsemane, “Abba, take this cup from me.” Jesus and Jeremiah show us the way—we have such strength in our humanity walking in the path that they did. As Jeremiah says—“You duped me, but I let myself be duped”—your words burn within me and I have to speak. What are we called to speak today?—each of us?
Jesus was quite harsh with Peter in today’s Gospel—“Get behind me Satan!” Jesus knew what was coming and the temptation was to be purely human—to not curb his desires, to run away from the truth burning in his heart, like Jeremiah and that temptation must have been very strong for Jesus to counter Peter in the way that he did. His own agony in the garden was about the age-old struggle between our human nature and our spiritual nature. Through Jesus’ dying, many more would be raised up with him, but that could only happen if he was willing to give of himself and give totally. That was what his entire life with us had been about, so that when he physically left us; there would be no doubt of how much our God loves us.
I have shared with you in the past the writings of Sr. Ilia Delio, Franciscan, and one such piece from her book, CLARE OF ASSISI, A Heart Full of Love, is appropriate here. She speaks of the great love Clare had for God in the person of Jesus and especially, Jesus Crucified. It is in his crucifixion, she says, that Clare saw the deep love of our God for us and for her, it was not about Jesus saving us from our sins. It was all about Jesus taking on the worst that humanity could offer in order that we, his sisters and brothers could then recognize him in their sufferings and those of others.
Clare spent her life immersed in the crucified Jesus in order that she could then recognize Jesus in all of created life. But she first needed to see her loving God in the suffering Jesus in order that she could make the leap to seeing Jesus in the suffering of humanity. The harder task is always to love; especially when that is difficult—when those we love will never return the love. We may have had persons in our lives like this who truly are difficult to love and we can only pray, perhaps, that God would love them through us—and not let us, get in the way. You probably have experienced a time or two in your life when you said or did exactly what was needed and you knew in your heart, that it wasn’t what you would usually do—that was the Spirit bringing the love that was needed!
This past week, the world over is remembering Princess Diana and her untimely death 20 years ago. She left us, all who knew her, a precious legacy and her own words say it best: “Carry out a random act of kindness with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you.”
I believe our God always intended that we would one day, be one—all of created life—that we would find our way back to each other—all the races, all the faces, all the cultures, all of creation and see in each other a sister, a brother, a kindred spirit as Francis and Clare of Assisi did.
With the discovery of the human genome, scientists have been able to prove that humanity most likely began in Africa and there were several different family groups that diversified over thousands of years as they moved over the continents. It is fantastic to think that we truly are one big family and that we truly are literally brothers and sisters!
Jeremiah perhaps had some sense of this in his gift of himself, as would Jesus later. His actions were not meant to make his life easier, but to do the work of his loving God, to speak the truth amid the ridicule—to make us one and help us to know that we are loved and to then act accordingly. We are each called to speak the truth as we come to know it—to see God’s purposes in our smaller designs—each day that we are alive, we give God a chance to love one more individual—to perhaps bring them back into the fold.
Clare of Assisi’s life says in no uncertain terms that we as humans have been given life to enjoy, yes, but it must never stop there. Each of us is here to interact with others, with our world—every decision needs to reflect not just my good, but the good of others.
Sometimes we wonder in our desire to do the right thing, how will we know that we have in fact, done the right thing? As Jesus said, “By the fruits you will know.” Doing the right thing should help those less fortunate, insure a place at the table for everyone who wants to be there, welcome all those rejected because of gender, race, sexual orientation, marital status—and so on. Our thinking must broaden out. Sometimes our thinking is narrow and short-sighted—the issue of being pro-life is a good example—we must realize that being pro-life is about more than saving babies. We must save babies, yes, but we must care about their moms too; we must care that some parents in this world don’t have the means to feed their children once here. Some don’t have other supports necessary to raise their children well—some don’t have the mental stability to even be a parent in the first place and the list goes on. We must care across the life continuum—that is what it truly means to be “pro-life.”
We can’t support politicians who take from the poor and give to the rich; we can’t support so-called leaders who hold their positions simply for self-gratification; we can’t support capital punishment as this, and the above examples fly in the face of all that it means to be “pro-life.” I realize that all of this is easier said than done, but the Scriptures today challenge us “to be of the mind of God,” so we must try!
When we realize how we are all connected, that in truth; we all came from the same building blocks of life; we can then realize the sin against humanity that it is to ever consider that one race is better than another, as we saw so blatantly demonstrated in Charlottesville. We can then realize that to be closed in our thinking about humanity and the God who made us all different, wonderful and beautiful with something special to offer of the face of God is equally a sin against our brothers and sisters with whom we share this planet.
I’m sure as Jesus died—as he gave the last full measure, after a life of service, speaking the truth, healing the sick, there was a profound peace, and his Abba’s words at the beginning of his public ministry in the Jordan would have come flooding into his very consciousness—“This is my beloved—in whom I am well pleased!” This aspect of our God, this tenderness my friends, should always strengthen us—the God of Jeremiah, the God of Peter, the God of Jesus, the God of Clare and Francis, the God of the Psalmist—proclaimed today as “more kind than life itself,” is our God too! This God will never ask too much of us and will always be our help, watching over us as the eagle spreading its wings over its young. May we each be blessed today for this awesome task of being Christ now for our world!