Reflection on the Readings at Mass for the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year A. The Liturgical Sense of the Scriptures Podcast, by Catholic Author and Theologian David L. Gray. READINGS: Jeremiah 20:7-9, Romans 12:1-2, Matthew 16:21-27. (Watch on YouTube)
How the Liturgy Trains Us to Make Ourselves a Living Sacrifice
There is something we should all admire about the prophet Jeremiah. He was never afraid to be honest with God. He never held back from telling God exactly how he felt. Today’s First Reading from Jeremiah 20:7-9 is not the first time Jeremiah called God a deceiver. In 15:18, the prophet laments, “Why is my pain continuous, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? To me, you are like a deceptive brook, waters that cannot be relied on!” On that day, the Lord responded to Jeremiah’s pity party. Yet, on this day, Jeremiah recovers in the resignation to the truth of his miserable condition, saying, “You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped; you were too strong for me, and you triumphed. All the day, I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I must cry out, violence and outrage is my message; the word of the LORD has brought me derision and reproach all the day. I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.”
Perhaps you have someone like this in your life, who is always ready and willing to give whoever a dissertation about their feelings in the moment, especially if they feel wronged. If you are like me, the first words out of my mouth around these types of people are, ‘Calm down,’ which is always the wrong thing to say because people should have the opportunity to use words to explain their immediate condition. With God, I admit I have been that person. For whatever reason, the ministry God has given me has been much closer to Jeremiah and John the Baptist ministries than to Saint Dominic de Guzman, who I aspire to be like. It has been a point of suffering for me to be a voice that cries out in the wilderness, a voice that no one hears. The conversation that Jeremiah is having in our readings today is nearly identical to the ones I used to have with God about two or three times a year, and it was the prophet who taught me how to be honest with God. It never seemed to matter, but I love that God always gives me the space to be human with Him. Then, my pity parties ended one day, and I wondered if God missed them because I felt I always gave Him a Good laugh. One day, I decided to end my suffering by just accepting that fact that I am just a miserable slave to His will, and a very unprofitable pathetic slave at that. I calmed down. Today, I am just happy to get my daily bread and another opportunity to do His will. Truly, I only feel alive when I am doing His will because doing His will is what I love, although I suffer greatly from it.
Yet, even if I am a miserable slave, I still have to do that same recollection at night and confess openly whether I have carried my Cross that day and whether I followed Him as I carried it. Did I give up everything He had given me to offer that day? Did I mentally, physically, and spiritually exhaust myself? Did I deny myself by loving enough, did I deny myself by praying for others enough, and did I deny myself by fasting enough? These questions are the true measuring rod for service that we hear Christ Jesus speak to us in today’s Gospel reading from Matthew 16:21-27, saying, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his Cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
The call to take up our Cross makes no sense to our generation. The Cross was an instrument of death. The crucifix we adore is the death penalty given to our Lord. Take up your future death penalty and follow me to where I carried mine. Who’s signing up for that? Not only is that a definitive sacrifice, but it is uphill – up to Mouny Calvary type of suffering on the body and spirit, which will break us and humble us if we carry our Cross and follow Him or do not carry it and follow Satan. Those are the only two paths for our bodies: the path to a glorified body or the path to a body doomed to perdition. Choose your own adventure, but there are only two possible endings: heaven or hell.
The Apostle Paul echoes this call to physical worship and physical suffering in today’s Second Reading from Romans 12:1-2, writing, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” The Apostle Paul’s asking us to make ourselves a living sacrifice is complicated for this present age, who denies that we are embodied souls because we were created for physical worship; we were given a body to carry a cross of sacrifice and death. On the contrary, this is a divine reality that the Liturgy of the Catholic Mass reminds us of through the Sursum Corda prayer, with the priest exclaiming, ‘Lift up your hearts.’ Here, the priest is pleading with us to make ourselves a living sacrifice, for what else are you doing when you take your heart out of your body and offer it up to its author? ‘We lift them up to the Lord.’ “Give thanks to our Lord,’ ‘It is right and just.’ Truly, it is right and just to make ourselves a living sacrifice because that is what our God demands of us and who He has been training us to be through the continual repetition of the Mass.
No one ever promised you that this would be easy. Sacrifice is always difficult and messy. While our Lord most certainly said that His burden is light and His yoke is easy, He also never denied that you would have a burden, a yoke, and a cross. Most certainly, feel free to lament about the physical labor and suffering before you like Jeremiah and Paul and every other sinner and saint has done from the beginning to the end, but when night comes, make sure you get down your knees and make an account of whether you were in the world this day who God has created you to be and has been training you to be through the liturgy of the Mass.
This is just one way how the readings at Mass this Sunday connect to the Liturgy and how the Liturgy is forming us how to live our lives in the world. Be in the world what you have received through the Liturgy.