August 31, 2014 click on left end of black bar to play-pause
August 31, 2014
Jeremiah 20:7-9; Matthew 16:21-27
Fr. George Smiga
What is today’s first reading doing in the Bible? Isn’t the Bible the place where God is to be praised, where God’s glory is to be extolled, where hope abounds? But today’s first reading from the prophet Jeremiah is without hope. Rather than God being praised, God is attacked. Jeremiah says that he has been deceived by God, that he has been duped. Rather than giving Jeremiah support, God has made Jeremiah’s life a misery. Jeremiah’s negative and violent words might shock us, but they can also instruct us. Jeremiah is telling us that when we pray, when we speak to God, we must speak honestly. We must come before the Lord ready to say what we really think and what we really feel.
Jeremiah became a prophet early in his life. We have every reason to believe that he thought being chosen was an honor and that he expected that people would respect him for being God’s messenger. But the words that God gave Jeremiah to speak were hard words, words of destruction and judgment. People rejected Jeremiah and his message. They attacked him, beat him, and threw him into prison. Jeremiah began to see that his life was not turning out as he expected. Rather than being respected, he was being derided. This is why he complains to the Lord. This is why he says that he has been tricked. Misery and suffering were not what he signed up for. God had duped him.
Jeremiah is a model for us when we find ourselves in painful places in which we never thought we would be: when our marriage falls apart, when our health deteriorates, when the people we trusted hurt us, when advancing age takes away one ability after another. When we find ourselves in circumstances that we never bargained for, Jeremiah tells us that we have the right to complain. We have the right to tell God, “I’m not happy. This stinks! You have not treated me fairly.” To say this in another way, when we are in pain, being honest is more important than being polite. Telling God that we are disappointed, that we are angry, is not a sign of disrespect. Rather it shows that we are taking our relationship with God seriously, seriously enough to come before God as we really are, seriously enough to challenge God to save us.
Praying with this kind of honesty creates new possibilities. When we put our pain and loss on the table, when we get our anger off our chest, it opens the way for us to listen to what God may say in response. God’s words may be words of comfort and of peace. But to reach that peace, we must begin with honesty. We must tell the Lord what we really think and feel.
In today’s gospel Jesus says that a disciple must take up the cross and follow him. His words are true enough. All of us at one time or another will find ourselves in painful situations that we did not bargain for. But when we find ourselves in those places, Jeremiah tells us that we have the right to complain. We can confront God with our anger and disappointment. We can challenge God to save us and to take our cross away. To pray this way is to pray as a disciple. Jesus tells us that we must carry our cross. But Jeremiah shows us that we do not have to like it.