22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A ~ September 3, 2023
There are always two things in our life either we have understanding or misunderstanding. If we have better understanding of a person or situation, then everything become right and peaceful. However, if there is misunderstanding then there is brokenness in relationship and sadness is beyond comparison. Let me share a story of husband and wife who were poor but were given the chance for the wife to understand the situation and they went back to their same old life.
Not so long ago, lived a humble fisherman and his wife. They had a small filthy shack, really close to the sea. One day, while fishing, he caught a big, big flounder. “Let me go for I am an enchanted prince”, the flounder begged. The fisherman believed the talking fish and set it free. He we back home and told his wife what had happened. “Did you ask him for anything? At least for little cottage for us to live in? she asked right away. She argued that he had to go back. So even though he didn’t want to, he finally did. He called out the flounder and then walked back home only to see a beautiful cottage where his shack used to be. But his wife was not happy as she wanted a palace now. She argued and she argued, and he finally went back to the sea. He called out to the flounder and then walked back home, where he got blinded by the shiny new towers of the palace.
He thought she’d be happy, but his wife wasn’t happy at all. Now she wanted to be a king. So, he walked back and spoke to the flounder again, and came back home to find her sitting on the throne. It wasn’t enough for her, she wanted more. She became emperor and soon enough, the pope. But as she craved for more, one sleepless night she wished the ultimate wish, she wanted to be like a god. The fisherman wouldn’t do it, but she argued more than ever.
As he walked to the sea, the nice wind turned into a storm. He called out to the flounder and told him her new demand. “Go home, she has everything she deserves now”. The flounder said. As the fisherman walked home, he saw their filthy shack back there. They still live there today, wishing they had asked for less.
Saint Columban explains our relationship with the Lord saying, “Brethren, let us follow that vocation by which we are called from life to the fountain of life. He is the fountain, not only of living water, but of eternal life. He is the fountain of light and spiritual illumination; for from him come all these things: wisdom, life, and eternal light. The author of life is the fountain of life; the creator of light is the fountain of spiritual illumination. Therefore, let us seek the fountain of light and life and the living water by despising what we see, by leaving the world and dwelling in the highest heavens. Let us seek these things, and like rational and shrewd fish may we drink the living water which wells up to eternal life. Merciful God, good Lord, I wish that you would unite me to that fountain, that there I may drink of the living spring of the water of life with those others who thirst after you. There in that heavenly region may I ever dwell, delighted with abundant sweetness, and say: “How sweet is the fountain of living water which never fails, the water welling up to eternal life.” O God, you are yourself that fountain ever and again to be desired, ever, and again to be consumed. Lord Christ, always give us this water to be for us the source of the living water which wells up to eternal life. I ask you for your great benefits. Who does not know it? You, King of glory, know how to give great gifts, and you have promised them; there is nothing greater than you, and you bestowed yourself upon us; you gave yourself for us”.
He continues to say “Therefore, we ask that we may know what we love, since we ask nothing other than that you give us yourself. For you are our all: our life, our light, our salvation, our food and our drink, our God. Inspire our hearts, I ask you, Jesus, with that breath of your Spirit; wound our souls with your love, so that the soul of every one of us may say in truth: Show me my soul’s desire, for I am wounded by your love. These are the wounds I wish for, Lord. Blessed is the soul so wounded by love. Such a soul seeks the fountain of eternal life and drinks from it, although it continues to thirst, and its thirst grows ever greater even as it drinks. Therefore, the more the soul loves, the more it desires to love, and the greater its suffering, the greater its healing. In this same way may our God and Lord Jesus Christ, the good and saving physician, wound the depths of our souls with a healing wound—the same Jesus Christ who reigns in unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen”.
Last Sunday we were given two personalities to walk with one Shebna who rather becoming good example to other, was lost in his own greed and selfish motives and eventually got thrown out of office and was replaced by Eliakim son of Hilkiah. Eliakim was given the keys to open and shut down and there is no one who could open or shutdown. His understating in the eyes of God was and honest and righteous man who obeys him. On the other hand, St. Peter was given responsibility to lead the Church because he is a rock upon him the Church is build, unshakable, and the Lord gave him the keys of the kingdom of heaven with the authority to bind and loose. This is the first time that Simon became Peter who was given authority to lead the Church.
How do people understand Jesus? Last week Jesus asked his disciples two questions: What do people say & what do you say who am I? St. Peter understood Jesus by saying “You are the Christ, Son of the Living God”. Do we really believe in that? However sometimes we act like St. Thomas who said “He will not believe in him unless he will see him and insert his finger into his side. He failed to understand Jesus that he is Son of God who had done great works.
Today we are given the examples of Prophet Jeremiah and our Lord. Prophet suffered till the point of death and wished death over his life. At the mid-point of his ministry, the Babylonian empire under Nebuchadnezzar began expanding in the Middle East and Israel’s existence was threatened. Jeremiah warned Israel about this threat, believing that he had received such warning words from God. But the people denounced him (20:10). Jeremiah feels caught in the middle, squeezed between a God who has insisted that he preach this difficult word of warning and a people who refuse to believe him. He is stuck between an insistent God and a resistant people. This situation occasions for the prophet a vocational crisis. In the midst of this crisis, he voices six laments (Jeremiah 11-20). In essence: God, I’m doing your bidding, so what’s with all this trouble I have to endure; the people are engaged in a whispering campaign against me. Why did you get me into this mess? You didn’t tell me it would be this difficult. It would have been better had I not been born than have to live through this kind of vocational hell (Please read 20:14-18). How can Jeremiah talk to God like this? He goes on and on! “The word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long” (20:8). “Cursed be the day on which I was born! …Why did I come forth from the womb to see toil and sorrow and spend my days in shame” (20:14, 18)? Earlier, Jeremiah’s words to God are even more sharply stated (15:18): “Why is my pain unceasing, my wounds incurable, refusing to be healed? Truly, you God are to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail.”
However, Lord stood by his side and protected him. Jeremiah understood God who is always there to protect him all the days of his life. He was a leader and messenger who led people to righteousness and obedience. He was able to talk to God because he understood him. Do we understand God?
In today’s Gospel St. Matthew presents Jesus who became the first one to set an example of leadership and humility for us as Prophet Isaiah says “Surely, he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. We are like sheep have have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth”.
Jesus, after having ascertained that Peter and the other eleven believed in Him as the Messiah and Son of God, “began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things…, and be killed, and on the third day be raised”. It is a critical statement of Jesus about sharing the news of his death, which may have made his disciples upset and shocked. However, we need to pay very close attention to the second part of the Gospel where Jesus is inviting anyone who wants to follow him, they must carry the Cross. St. Matthew gives us the following reasons to understand the demand of Jesus:
Firstly, Jesus is the first one to talk about his own suffering and death which shows that Jesus loves to set example for his followers how to sacrifice one’s life for others. The sharing about his own suffering and death shows how much he loves us.
Secondly Jesus shows his purpose of coming into this world because being a true Son of God, he was focused on his purpose to save sinners. From all eternity this was God’s plan for humankind. But because sin had entered the world before the Incarnation took place, the Son of God in his human nature had to suffer the violent death of the cross at the hands of sinners. In this very suffering he became the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world, as the Prophet Isaiah had foretold in his “suffering servant” prophecies. His death, because he was God as well as man, was a sacrifice, an atonement, of infinite value, and therefore obtained forgiveness from the Father for all the sins of the human race.
Thirdly, Christ intended to prepare his disciples and other followers for what he knew would be for them a severe crisis of faith. He also took occasion from it to remind his disciples, and all others who would follow him, of what their attitude to suffering and death should be. He told them, and us too, that we must be ever ready to accept sufferings in this life, and even an untimely death if that should be demanded of us, rather than deny our Christian faith.
After showing example of his own carrying of the Cross, he invites us to carry our crosses everyday in humility and obedience. This daily carrying of our Christian cross can be, and is for many, a prolonged martyrdom. Poverty, ill-health, cruelty, and hardheartedness met with in the home and in one’s neighbors, are heavy crosses which only a truly Christian shoulder can bear.
However sometimes we fail to follow the example of Jesus and we act like St. Peter to deny that sufferings are real. Naturally, Peter did not want Jesus to suffer — who could find fault with that? St. Peter who acknowledges Jesus, “Christ is the living Son of God” but fails to understand Jesus after listening about his suffering. I believe sometimes we act the same way during our sufferings. However, St. Paul highlights the importance of the Cross in these words “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
Let me conclude my reflection with the following story which will help us to clear our hearts and minds from any temptation or obstacle to follow the example of Jesus in humility. We must believe that if we include Jesus in our sufferings, he will rescue us. We do need to understand that he has once for all and has freed us from the burden of death.
A family settled down for dinner at a restaurant. The waitress first took the order of the adults, then turned to the seven-year-old. “What will you have?” she asked.
The boy looked around the table timidly and said, “I would like to have a hot dog.”
Before the waitress could write down the order, the mother interrupted. “No hot dogs,” she said, “Get him a steak with mashed potatoes and carrots.”
The waitress ignored her. “Do you want ketchup or mustard on your hot dog?” she asked the boy.
“Coming up in a minute,” said the waitress as she started for the kitchen.
There was a stunned silence when she left. Finally, the boy looked at everyone present and said, “Know what? She thinks I’m real!”
Do we understand Jesus to walk with him?
Picture by Fr. Iqbal, Salt Mines in Poland.
Other Sermons In This Series
March 03, 2023
April 22, 2022
June 23, 2023