HOMILY FOR 22ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIMES YEAR A
Readings: Jeremiah 20:7-9; Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 16.21-27
Last Sunday, we reflected on leadership and what it takes to be a genuine leader according to the mind of Christ. Today’s reflection focuses on discipleship and how our souls are yearning for God. They remind and encourage us to allow God to take possession of us.
In the first reading Jeremiah prays, “O Lord, You have deceived me (seduced me), and I have let myself be (deceived) seduced; you have overpowered me; you were the stronger” (Jer. 20:7). In the second reading, St. Paul says, “I appeal to you brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship (Rom. 12:1). And Jesus in the Gospel states, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Dear brothers and sisters, last two Sundays, God reminded us that His salvation is meant for all people and He entrusted the keys of the kingdom to St. Peter last Sunday. Today, He is reminding us that we are the corner stone of the Church and the essence of His mission. So, in actual fact He needs us and to get us into His kingdom, we need to allow Him to seduce us or to deceive us. I would like to reflect with you using the concept of the old lectionary which is still in vogue. That is God seducing us to move into His kingdom.
What does it mean to be seduced? Let us address this word in the positive sense and not from the carnal or negative sense. On a positive note, to seduce would mean to deliberately persuade someone into doing something by making it very attractive or an act of enticing someone into a relationship. Put differently, to seduce is to charm someone by appealing to his or her senses, often with the goal of reducing unfounded fears. However, for Jeremiah in the first reading today, the word of God sounded as insult and reproach all the day long. Thanks be to God that he recounted his words and made a confession that would be a spring board for us. He says, “If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot” (Jer. 20:9).
Dear friends in Christ, the seduction of God is so powerful and Jeremiah could recognised it. In the history of our faith and Church many have experienced the power of divine seduction. St. Augustine readily comes to mind and he would expressed his experience as: “You arouse us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you” (Bk 1, 1-2).
Again, the psalmist gives us an insight about how our souls are constantly yearning for divine seduction. The Psalmist says, “As the deer that longs for running streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I enter and see the face of God?” (Ps. 42:1-3).
My dear people of God, this seductive power of God come upon us daily because we all have something about God in each and every one of us. Remember, we are made in the image and after the likeness of God. So, there is God in us attracting God. For instance, Adam was able to exclaim “this at last is the bone of my bone and the flesh of my flesh” (Gen. 2:23) because he found in Eve something of himself. Similarly, God makes Himself known to us and draws us to Himself through the umbilical cord that ties us to Him. That is, His image in us.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate love of the Father re-established the union between us and the Father (after the fall of man) through the salvation he wrought on the cross of Calvary. Through his exemplary teaching, he draws us to always allow ourselves to be seduced by God by submitting to the will of the Father. No wonder he rebuked Peter today, “get behind me, Satan!” (Mat. 16:23). Jesus said this like a man wounded in the heart, with distressing grief and a kind of shuddering horror. This is because, in that moment, there came back to him with cruel force the temptations which he had faced in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry. There, he had been tempted to take the way of power (Lk 4:3-12). At the end of the temptation story, Luke writes: “when the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time” (Lk 4:13). Beloved friends, no one wants a cross; no one wants to die in agony; even in the Garden of Gethsemane, that same temptation came to Jesus, the temptation to take another way, rather than being drawn or moved by God.
We have the following lessons from today’s celebration: Firstly, allow God to seduce you! Why are you blocking off the loving and merciful rays of God? Why do you find it difficult to surrender your heart to Jesus? The Psalmist tells us today, “O God, you are my God, for you I long; for you my soul is thirsting. My body pines for you, like a dry weary land without water” (Psa. 62:1-2). Jesus and Jeremiah are teaching us today that there is always a ‘divine fire of seduction’ burning in our hearts. Ours is only to allow the Holy Spirit to stimulate this fire in us. This is why we usually pray, ‘Come Holy Spirit fill the hearts of the faithful, and enkindle in us the fire of your love’.
You know what? The fires of worldly lust, and quest for materialism are too easily quenched for one who desires to be seduced by God. The question remains: Are you ready to allow yourself to be seduced by God? The truth is this: If God seduces you, you will be ‘lost’ in him. Then, you will exclaim with St Paul, “It is no longer I who live…” (Gal. 2:20). Give God a chance!
Secondly, beware of protective love! What makes the temptation of Peter more delicate is the fact that it comes from the one who loves Jesus. Peter spoke as he did only because he so much loved Jesus to the extent that he could not bear to think of Jesus treading that dreadful path and dying that awful death.
Beloved friends, the hardest temptation of all is the one which comes from protective love! There are times when tender love seeks to prevent us from the perils of the path of God; but the real love is the love which sends people out to obey the commandment of moral courage and conviction, not to make life easy but to make it great. This protective love can deny one of being a committed follower of Jesus. What actually wounded the heart of Jesus, and made him speak the way he did, was that the tempter spoke to him through the affectionate but mistaken love of Peter’s burning and impetuous heart.
Dear brothers and sisters, beware of protective love: when people sympathize with you because you are charitable or struggle to live the life of chastity and sincerity, beware!
When people suggest to you easy ways of escaping life crosses, beware! Beware when people cajole you and call you all sorts of names because you have resolved to preach the word of God in season and out of season!
Beware when people come to take away the cross God has given you to prepare you for His kingdom! Beware whenever you begin to think that you have tried enough in the work of God and holiness of life, for that is when the devil comes with pride and deception! Jesus would simply tell us, “take heed that no one deceives you” (Matt. 24:4).
Finally, Origen tells us that Jesus was saying to Peter: ‘Peter, your place is behind me, not in front of me. It is your place to follow me in the way I choose, not to try to lead me in the way you would like me to go’. As such, God seduces us to follow Him and not for Him to follow us! The one thing that Satan could never become is a follower of Jesus; that is why he is Satan. Hence, to live the Christian life well, me must humbly prepare to ‘deny ourselves’, ‘take up our crosses’, and ‘follow Jesus Christ’ (Mat. 16:24). This is the only way we shall offer our bodies as holy sacrifices, truly pleasing to God (Rom. 12:1).
Beloved friends, may we ask the Lord today to grant us the grace always to allow ourselves to be seduced by His power. Our prayer today through the Collect is: “God of might, giver of every good gift, put into our hearts the love of your name, so that by deepening our sense of reverence, you may nurture in us what is good and, by your watchful care, keep safe what you have nurtured. Amen!
Peace be with you!