SEPTEMBER 3RD: TWENTY-SECOND SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
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.
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.
Jesus began to show his disciples
that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly
from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed and on the third day be raised.
Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him,
"God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you."
He turned and said to Peter,
"Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me.
You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."
Then Jesus said to his disciples,
"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.
What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world
and forfeit his life?
Or what can one give in exchange for his life?
For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father's glory,
and then he will repay all according to his conduct."
The late Carrol Stuhlmueller once mentioned in class that the Hebrew word rendered as “duped” in the initial verse of today’s Jeremiah reading is normally translated as “rape” when used in other places of the Hebrew Scriptures. Given that the next line in this notorious chapter 20 reads, “. . . you were too strong for me, and you triumphed,” that would also seem to be what the prophet is accusing Yahweh of doing to him. No wonder our modern translators watered down the word. We’re accustomed to regarding God as our Redeemer, our Savior, not as our Rapist. Yet, as blasphemous as it is, that seems to be exactly how Jeremiah looks at his relationship with Yahweh.
When, as a child, I began walking to school alone, my mother frequently warned me never to get into a car with a stranger. Only much later did I understand she wasn’t worried about the stranger’s reckless driving record; she feared something much worse. Today Jeremiah confesses, “Years ago I didn’t listen to my mother. I got into a car with Yahweh, and I’m still suffering the consequences.” The prophet is very concrete: “I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me . . . the word of Yahweh has brought me derision and reproach all the day.”
Even worse, Jeremiah can’t tell Yahweh, “Take this job and . . . .” It’s as though he’s joined the mafia; there’s no way he can get out of it. “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.” He’s trapped! He’s going to have to be a prophet – with all the pain that entails - till the day he dies.
Jesus of Nazareth’s earliest followers could identify with Jeremiah on all sorts of levels. Though, unlike this 7th century BCE prophet, they can fall back on a belief in an afterlife which eventually levels the faith playing-field, it doesn’t take long for them to discover their relationship with this itinerant preacher brings lots of suffering. That’s why immediately after Matthew has Peter declare Jesus is the “Messiah, the Son of the Living God,” this divine Christ informs his followers “. . . that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly . . . be killed and on the third day be raised.” Peter hadn’t planned on that kind of salvation.
It’s bad enough this Galilean carpenter will have to undergo such pain, but it’s even worse that he expects his followers to endure the same suffering. They, like Jesus, will have to carry their “tau:” be totally open to whatever God wants them to do. Only those who are willing to lose their lives will eventually gain the life Jesus experiences and promises. It’s as though God’s fighting against God.
Even before Matthew wrote his gospel, Paul of Tarsus discovered that same dying/rising reality. It comes with the territory. In our second reading, he reminds the Christian community in Rome that unless they “offer” their bodies as a living sacrifice, they’ll never achieve the life the risen Jesus has achieved.
When Peanuts’ Charlie Brown once mentioned to Lucy that, “Life’s a matter of ups and downs,” Lucy immediately countered with, “I don’t want any downs! I just want to go up, up, up!” I presume each of us can identify with Lucy. Yet at the same time we’re trying to imitate someone who constantly tried to “discern what is the will of God.”
Jesus not only got into the car with Yahweh, he holds the door open for us to jump in with him.