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A Scripture Reflection for the Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

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by John R. Barker, OFM | September 3, 2017

A Scripture Reflection for the Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 3, 2017: Jer 20:7-9; Ps 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9; Rom 12:1-2; Mt 16:21-27

One day Teresa of Ávila was crossing a brook on her way to visit one of the convents she had founded. Midway through the stream the saddle on her donkey slipped and she ended up in the water. "Lord," she said, "if this is how you treat your friends, it's no wonder you have so few!" Dear Saint Teresa -- leave it to her to say out loud what probably everyone who has been close to God has thought at least once. Certainly Moses, whom God called an "intimate friend" (Exod 33:17), knew that this friendship often brought heartache and trouble. When Jesus told his disciples, "You are my friends," he also added, "if you do what I command you." And that command was to "love" (John 15:14, 17). Jesus taught his followers that true love will require them to sacrifice, sometimes to the point of death. And why not? It certainly does for God. To be a friend of God is to accept the same costs that God does to rescue a beautiful and dignified creation from the ugliness and dishonor wrought by sin and waywardness.
 
These are the ways of God: to love, to be faithful, to be merciful (even when the mercy is, as they say, "severe") -- and especially to willingly take on the burdens such love, fidelity, and mercy impose, even on the sovereign Creator of heaven and earth. Human ways, on the other hand, can be quite different. We like the idea of being loving, faithful, and merciful, but when it requires making sacrifices (sometimes even small ones), well, we are often astonishingly capable of coming up with reasons why sometimes it's just asking too much. The fact is that very often to be human is to compromise when we ought not to, to take easy shortcuts, and to make often very sophisticated rationalizations to persuade ourselves that we are doing the right thing when we know we are not. The way of humans is to avoid pain and sacrifice; the way of God is to embrace it when necessary.
 
Certainly, Jeremiah and Peter discovered that it is not God's way to shrink from rejection or to avoid conflict and sacrifice when the redemption of God's beloved people is at stake. They learned that if you would be a friend of God you must be willing to think as God does, to experience and interpret the world the way God does. This requires, as Saint Paul says, being "transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good, pleasing, and perfect." Sometimes God's idea of what is good, pleasing, and perfect seems anything but to human minds.
 
I'm not sure the idea that God requires sacrifices of us is too much in favor these days. Or maybe we accept the notion in theory, but in practice we choose which sorts of sacrifices we think God expects of us, and which ones are best left to a former, reputedly more "rigorist" age. (We'll concede laying down our lives if it comes to it, but does God really begrudge us the occasional opportunity to "let off a little steam" by rehearsing for anyone who will listen the faults of our colleagues or those we live with?) How many of us still believe that God actually expects us to live a life marked by that beautiful notion, "heroic virtue"? And how many of us believe that we can achieve it, becoming intimate friends with God to the point of actually becoming saints? The Catholic writer Charles Péguy once said, "Life holds only one tragedy, ultimately: not to have been a saint." Every saint -- from Moses and Jeremiah to Mary, Peter, and Teresa of Ávila -- will tell us that being a friend of God requires great sacrifice. But what is the alternative? "What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world," but lose one's life, one's opportunity for intimate friendship with God?
 
This all sounds a bit gloomy on the surface, perhaps, but to be a friend of God is the work of grace, and that means it is good news. This week all three readings urge us to take stock: are we content to think as human beings do, conforming ourselves to this age, running away from sacrifices big or small? Or do we want to take the risk of letting God's grace dupe us into having our minds transformed and renewed so that we think -- and act -- as God does? Pray for us, Saint Teresa, that we may not ultimately reject the gift of intimate friendship with God, even when it means we will regularly fall off our saddles and end up in the water. What better place is there for souls who thirst for God?
 
The above image was created by the Catholics on Call Staff.
Author information John R. Barker, OFM

Assistant Professor of Old Testament Studies
M.Div./M.A., Catholic Theological Union; Ph.D., Boston College

Br. John R. Barker, OFM, is a Franciscan friar with the Province of Saint John the Baptist (Cincinnati). He is Assistant Professor of Old Testament Studies at CTU. His main areas of research relate to the formation and function of biblical texts, particularly the prophetic literature. This includes such approaches as rhetorical criticism, the history of the interpretation and reception of biblical texts, and the Bible in the Church and culture.

Br. John has presented on a variety of biblical topics at parishes throughout the US and contributes regularly to Weekday Homily Helps. His publications include “Haggai,” The Bible Today 53.6 (2015): 343–48; “The Garden as a Place of Beginnings,” The Bible Today 53.3 (2015): 137–42; “The Book of Haggai and the Rebuilding of the Temple in the Early Persian Period,” New Theology Review 26.2 (2014). He is currently revising for publication his dissertation, “Disputed Temple: A Rhetorical Analysis of the Book of Haggai,” and preparing the article on Zechariah for the revision of the New Jerome Bible Commentary. He is a member of the Catholic Biblical Association of America (CBA) and the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL).

jbarker@ctu.edu

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