Overcome that Obstacle, and Offer Yourself Wholly to The Lord!
Readings: 1st: Jer 20, 7-9; Ps 63; 2nd: Rom 12, 1-2; Gos: Mtt 16, 21-27
This brief reflection was written by Rev. Fr. Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a Member of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers (Spiritans). He is currently working at the Sanctuario del Espiritu Sancto, in Dorado, San Juan Puerto Rico, of the Spiritan International Group of Puerto Rico – Republica Dominicana. For more details and comments contact him on: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.
Today is the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time. As ever before, the holy mother church realizing the difficulties and obstacles we encounter daily in our efforts to respond fully and positively to the clarion call from God, encourages us to rise above both the internal and external obstacle, and reluctances in order to offer ourselves wholly to Christ who himself resisted all obstacles and reluctances in order to offer himself as a living, holy and fitting sacrifice in order that we might be salvaged from death unto life.
During a church service one Sunday, the offering plate came to Little Maria who was seated at the end of a row. She took the plate, put it down on the floor, and stood in it. The usher surprised over Maria’s action, asked her: “What are you doing?” Little Maria responded thus: “In Sunday school I learned that I was supposed to offer myself completely to God.” Does this mean anything to you? She has made her point and indeed has offered everything without thinking of the cost. Nothing could stop her, the congregation, the usher or even her own self pride and fear. She overcame all these “obstacles” in order to offer herself on the offertory plate. All the readings this Sunday including the psalm lead to one direction – the need to offer oneself to God in spite of both the external obstacles and even the internal resistances. Some of us like Jeremiah keep complaining (Jer 1, 4. 17), and like Peter, some of us present ourselves as “obstacles” and “wet blankets” on the part of others who are making frantic efforts to yield to God’s will.
In the first reading of this Sunday the lamentation of Jeremiah – the “weeping prophet” (9:1) was that of disappointment. He lamented: “Lord you have deceived me” or “seduced,” and “overpowered me” He was saying, “God, I didn’t sign on for this! You told me it would be tough, but you did not tell me that it was going to be this tough!” God why are you doing this to me? How on earth could you do this to me? What crime did I commit to deserve all this? The ordeal of the weeping prophet (Jer 9, 1), tells us that nothing can prevent the word of God from being proclaimed, not even our own reluctance or resistance. Though Jeremiah resisted, yet he submitted to God: “…and I have let myself be seduced”. He was no longer in charge of himself, rather, the word of God burns like fire in him. The double edged sword of the Spirit (Eph 6, 10; Heb 4, 12) has pierced his heart and left a great burden on him. The Jeremiah who was very timid and did not know how to speak (Jer 1, 4. 17) is now a hammer in God’s hand. There is much mystery in God! Sometimes we live under the assumption that if we do God’s will, we will be healthy, wealthy, and loved by all. But that’s not always true. Faithfulness to God at times brings sufferings, trials, disappointments, he allows us to experience horrific pains. However, in spite of all these, He blesses us and shields us.
In the second reading of today Paul employed the language of grace other than that of law and power to beg us to offer ourselves wholly to God. It suffices to take note of the adjectives he employed in describing the type of sacrifice we ought to be, and offer to the Lord. He enumerates them thus: “living bodies”, “holy sacrifice” and “truly pleasing”. This means that the sacrifice we must offer of ourselves to God must not be a dead one like the sacrifice of Cain (Gen 4, 1-4), it must not be the type that has been corrupted by the this mundane world and, it must be a sacrifice fitting for God. Offering ourselves to God as Paul puts it means a continuous exercise, every day and every time of our life. There is no extent to which we can say we have offered enough of ourselves to God. It is only when we have offered ourselves to God wholly that we can fully model our lives according to his pattern other than the pattern of this world. To present our bodies is to yield our faculties, our new life in Christ. “Yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God” (Rom 6:13). The surrender of our will to Jesus is essential to a life of joy and victory. We are to hold nothing back, instead, we should simply say, “Jesus, I love you all I have is yours, do with me whatever you will.” Many of us hold back from surrendering all to Jesus because they fear that it will bring terrible consequences. Our actions seem to say: “I surrender some instead of, I surrender all to Jesus”. For us to yield wholly to Jesus, we must understand what the Will of God is. When we understand his will and yield to it, we become wonderful and amazing channels of God’s love, peace, charity, happiness and joy to those around us.
In the gospel of today, we see the irony of the human person playing out. The same Peter who proclaimed Christ as the Lord just last week is now been referred to as Satan. Why would Jesus speak to him so harshly, after extending the keys to the kingdom to Peter just a few verses before? The answer is quite simple! Peter does not yet understand that the mission of Jesus entails the act of the shepherd laying down and offering his life for his flock (John 10:11). Perhaps Peter’s thought was, why are you talking of dying when we have not fully conquered the Romans. I am disappointed in you! How can you speak that way, you are the Lord. We have not become governors, ministers, ambassadors in this new government you have formed, and I have not even enjoyed the benefits of the new position you just appointed me to. Peter must have been so disappointed that the “Lord and God” could utter such a word about himself.
Today “Peter and his advice” are the “obstacles” that Jesus had to overcome in order to offer himself wholly to God for our salvation. He therefore represents “sympathizers”. Usually, they do not mean “bad”, but they are very myopic and shallow in their thinking and views. They see only “the-now”, but do not project or interpolate into the future to understand that the action of today has both geometric and exponential effect on the future. The poor Peter did not realize the necessity of Christ’s death – that: “It was necessary for one man to die so the many will live”. He represents in this contest, the college of bad special advisers and ignorant counselors in our social, economic, political, religious institutions; families, marriages, relationships, career etcetera. It may interest one to know that many world and institutional leaders or presidents are good people with wonderful intent for their people and organizations respectively. However, it is unfortunate to note that only about two to three percent of their so called special advisers are good. The result is poor governance, and oppression. This is because, rather than offer advices that will benefit the masses, like Peter, they prefer to give the ones that will stagnate the progress of the nation for their selfish gains and intentions. What type of advice do we give, who do we take advice from, what motivates our advice – emotions or genuine intents? Furthermore, Peter today represents those of us carried away by zeal and flesh, and thus forget Paul’s advice that: “Whoever thinks he is standing should take care not to fall” (1Cor 10, 4). Records abound of great men and women of God, spiritual giants who turned puppet overnight because they lapsed for a moment.
Today, we see Jesus resisting Peter and his suggestions. He refused to be distracted, but remained committed to his agreement with the Father about offering himself as a living, Holy and fitting sacrifice for the salvation of his brothers and sisters. What lesson must we learn from Jesus today? We must not allow both internal and external obstacles and reluctances prevent us from offering ourselves wholly to God. Instead, we must continue to echo with the Psalmist: “O God, you are my God, for you my soul is thirsting. My body pines for you like a dry weary land without water!”
Peace be with you all!!