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Offer, Suffer, Live!

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by Stephen Bevans, SVD | August 25, 2011

Scripture Reflection for the Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 28, 2011)

Scripture Readings:
Jeremiah 20:7-9
Psalm 63
Romans 12:1-2
Matthew 16:21-27

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For Christians, especially for Catholics, creation is holy. Christians don’t see their world or their lives as basically evil things that need to be sanctified by God’s grace. They don’t even see them as neutral. Every moment of history, every grain of sand, everything alive, if we have eyes to see, is already filled with God’s presence. The world is indeed, as the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote “charged with the grandeur of God.” God’s Spirit blows through the very fabric of creation.

This is why, for Christians, the best way to worship God is not so much by performing rituals or saying lengthy prayers. It is rather by leading an authentic life of discerning God’s call and “taking up the cross,” as Jesus challenges in the gospel, and Jeremiah experiences in the first reading. Paul captures this idea well in today’s second reading. “Offer your bodies,” he writes to the Christians in Rome, “as a living sacrifice.” God doesn’t want external sacrifices or fancy words. God wants us. God wants us to live lives of integrity, lives of service, attentive to the gospel, attentive to one another, attentive to the needs and suffering of the world. There’s a wonderful saying that Greek Orthodox Christians have. They speak of living the Christian life as “the Liturgy after the Liturgy.” Richard Fragomeni, who teaches here at CTU, once said in a talk that I heard that “we do Liturgy in church in order to worship God in our lives.” And Chicago lay theologian Gregory Augustine Pierce says the same thing in the title of one of his books: The Mass is Never Ended. Our lives are a Eucharist. Not only bread and wine are transformed into Christ’s body and blood. We are transformed as well.

Doing this, of course, is not easy. Paul tells the Romans that they should not “conform themselves to this age.” Jeremiah knew from experience that to really listen to God’s call would not always—in fact, almost always not—allow him to score very high in popularity polls. Jesus, of course, knew this too. To be “on call” is usually to run into opposition, and in Jesus’ case the opposition would be deadly. Following in Jesus’ footsteps means denying oneself, taking up the cross, being touched by children dying of starvation in Somalia, being outraged by ideological politicians, being in solidarity with people fighting for freedom in Syria and Libya.

Not easy, but this is the only way we can find real life. Jeremiah railed against God who called him to say things that time and again made him enemies of the powerful in Israel. He actually decided to look after himself and stop speaking. And yet, deep in his bones, he knew that this is what he had to do. He couldn’t hold it in. He had to speak. Jesus says that if you actually try to save your life—focus all your attention on yourself and your own success or comfort, be conformed to this world—you will end up losing it. You can gain the whole world, but what good is it if you soul is isolated and shriveled? But if you lose you life—offer your body as a living sacrifice by living a life of loving service—you will actually find it.  

Peter didn’t get it at first. But he learned eventually. This might not appeal to us at first either. So much about life today is about “saving” one’s life. But if we follow Jesus’ wisdom, and do what he did, we will discover that he is right. It’s only when the seed dies that it can yield the golden grain.

Steve Bevans, SVD

Author information Stephen Bevans, SVD

Stephen Bevans is currently Louis J. Luzbetak, S.V.D., Professor of Mission and Culture at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, USA and the Faculty Moderator for Catholics on Call. He is a Roman Catholic priest in the Society of the Divine Word, an international missionary congregation, and served for nine years (1972-1981) as a missionary in the Philippines.

His publications include: Models of Contextual Theology (2002), Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today (2004, with Roger Schroeder), Evangelization and Freedom (2009, with Jeffrey Gros), and Introduction to Theology in Global Perspective (2009).

He is past president of the American Society of Missiology (2006) and past member of the board of directors of the Catholic Theological Society of America (2007-2009). In 2009 he was visiting lecturer at Yarra Theological Union in Melbourne, Australia, and in 2013 he was the only Catholic to speak at a Plenary at the Tenth Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Busan, Korea.

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