22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, cycle A

Let us pray:

Spirit of Fire,

You revealed yourself through the burning bush

And the fiery courage of Pentecost.

Fiery Spirit, Source of all creative power,

Kindle your Holy Spark within me,

Breathe into me your Sacred Passion,

Fill me with your Flame until I have become fire,

Offering warmth and light to the world.  AMEN

 

In the spiritual life we keep our practices, spend time in prayer, seek God in all things, and yet at some point even all this is not enough – and we are asked to become fire.  Becoming fire means letting our passion for life and beauty ignite us in the world.  It means, as St. Ignatius of Loyola wisely said, that we are called to set the whole world on fire with our passion for God.  (Paintner, water, wind, earth & fire, p. 60)  Consider the readings today within the context of becoming fire.

1st Reading: Jeremiah 20: 7-0

In this passage we hear Jeremiah’s lament, his intensely personal outcry to God. His enemies for awhile seemed more powerful than ever; his failure was painful and seemed final. Yet, in the end, Jeremiah survived his dark night of the soul remaining faithful in God’s service.  The word that is translated as ‘duped’ or ‘enticed’ is the word that is used to describe the enticement involved in the seduction of a young woman by a man. Jeremiah claims to be ‘seduced’ by God into servicing and proclaiming God’s Word. It is a bold lament, filled with disappointment, anguish and love. (Celebration, August 28, 2005)

How often do we get stuck in a situation and can’t see our way out? Sometimes we make decisions and dig our heels in despite new information, or despite the nagging that maybe we should be more open (A disagreement with a friend?  A work decision?  A long-time family rift?).  It is in those moments that the fire of Spirit could burn within you, and be trans-formative.

2nd Reading– Romans 12: 1-2

Paul tells us to “Offer our bodies to God.” This is very different from the Greek culture/theology that saw the body as only a prison-house, something to be despised and even shame-filled. But Paul reminds us that Christians believe that our bodies, our very real selves, belong to God. Our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. The Incarnation assures us that God did not ‘stand apart’ from our bodies, but in our very flesh God came to show us his presence and love. Paul is telling them and us that it is the everyday ‘bodily’ activities of ordinary work in a shop or shipyard, factory or office that we are to offer to God as worship. In fact, the word used for worship is latreia, a noun form of the verb that means to labor or work for hire. It is not slavery, but the voluntary undertaking of work, a livelihood– that to which a person gives his life. So it is used in the Bible to mean the service or worship of God. In other words, Paul is saying that true worship is the offering of everyday life to God. This demands a transformation of body and mind; we must undergo a change. Our self-centered minds must become Christ-centered. We should not try to match our lives to all the fashions and interests of the world. We are not to be chameleons, but Christians. From the inside out, we must take on the mind and heart of Christ, being the Body of Christ in the world – the ‘job description’ for a Christian. Christian ethics is not so much a code, as it is a person…(William Barclay, Romans, 155-158)  What does this kindle in you?

The Gospel: Matthew 16: 21-27

The ‘rock’ that last week Jesus was going to build his church upon has now become a stumbling stone – an obstacle in the way of Jesus’ (and the church’s) true mission. Suffering is not the goal, but it is often the cost of discipleship.  This passage is in some ways like the story of the temptations in the desert. Peter is trying to entice Jesus with the vision of an earthly kingdom. Although Jesus rebukes Peter, in the correction is also an invitation to follow him. Like Peter we must learn that it is not enough to just speak the words of faith about Jesus; we must follow in his footsteps. (Mary Birmingham, Word & Worship Workbook for Year A, 496)

We often feel that suffering means that something has gone wrong – that God is absent or punishing.  In the light of Jesus and his cross, suffering can actually be a more intense experience of God’s presence. This is the dynamic that we call the paschal mystery – that to lose life, is sometimes to find the fullness of life.  Thinking like humans, we too often focus only on the suffering and ‘death’ of an experience. Thinking like God is to focus on the fullness of life (its glory and blessings) that God wishes to offer us. The paschal mystery is not just a concept. It is a turning of our hearts and minds toward God trusting always that His life and love can work in us – even when we suffer, even when things go all wrong, even when we fail.  We need to ‘get behind Jesus’ so we can follow him – to let go of our own preconceptions and worries letting God lead us to life –  a life so full it overflows into eternal life. (Living Liturgy, 2002, 228-229)

To deny oneself  is a phrase that has very Semitic origins. It is an idiom that means to ‘love less’ or to ‘give lower priority to’ oneself, meaning that we are to commit ourselves totally to God.  It can be a dangerous phrase if taken out of context or given a negative meaning that implies that one is to subordinate oneself to others in a way that is not life-giving in a true and healthy sense. What Matthew is trying to say is that as children of God, we are to subordinate ourselves to God; it is in a way a celebration of this ownership by God. Christians are to be mutually subordinate to one another – not oppressed or oppressors. Embracing one’s cross means that we ‘put up with’ and accept whatever difficulties and shame come our way because we are trying to follow Jesus. Jesus’ death on a cross was a shameful death, yet he did not turn away from God’s way of love and truth.  To follow Jesus may mean persecution or ridicule or hostility or other difficulties (like it did for Matthew’s community). These we must accept knowing with Paul that all is loss compared with “the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him . . . to know him and the power of his resurrection.” See Philippians 3:8b-11. (Mary Birmingham, Word & Worship Workbook for Year A, 496)  What meaning (and questions) do you find in all this?

John Pilch also cautions us to read this section knowing that it comes out of a culture “where speech is more evocative than explicit.”  This is language intended to call us – to awaken us – to God’s love and God’s vision of what is honorable and important in life.  But Jesus can also see the ‘handwriting on the wall.’ He is making an ever-growing number of powerful enemies. Yet, Jesus declares forcefully that this ominous future is also filled with God’s purpose and God’s truth. He challenges Peter and his followers to ‘get behind him’ and travel on — doing what God wills, not what might be convenient or easy. (The Cultural World of Jesus, 132, and “Historical Cultural Context,” http://liturgy.slu.edu)

Jesus saves – that is the message.  Jesus saves US.  That is the fire burning.  That is what can lift us up and keep us on the path.  Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, “Some day, after we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides, and gravity, we shall harness the energies of love.  Then, for a second time in the history of the world, we will have discovered fire.”  The fire grows as we help one another on our paths.  Do we allow our eyes to meet and spark a connection or we turn away?  What inner work will help ignite the fire of love?

 

Let us pray:

Spirit of Refining Fire,

Help me to release what no longer serves me

To make room for your light to fill me.

Blessings of fire be upon me

May the light of God illuminate me

And may the flame of love burn brightly in me

May I discover each day anew my own hidden fire

And enter it fully.  AMEN

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