Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A 2020 at St Luke’s Catholic Community, Marsden Park
Readings: Jeremiah 20:7-9; Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 16:13-27
30 August 2020
Following the Suffering Servant
Sisters and brothers in Christ,
We live in a society that glorifies winners. Our heroes and heroines are people who have accomplished great things; champions who make us proud. We aspire to those who have achieved in various fields of endeavour: sports, business, politics and so on. Mr Trump once said that with him in the presidency, the American people are going to win so much that they will be tired of winning(!)
But then we also know that winning isn’t everything. Winning can only take us so far. In fact, failure rather than success can play a vital role in forming the character of the person. It forces us to question our motives and at times there is more to be gained in losing than winning. This was true of St Francis of Assisi. It was his imprisonment as a prisoner of war that was a catalyst for a radical change of life’s direction and transformation.
Scripture for this 22nd Sunday of the year teaches us that Christian life is not about winning or staying on top of the social ladder. Rather, it is about giving oneself to a greater cause. We followers of Christ are to live life to the full by surrendering to the process of defeat, suffering, and dying. This is the great paradox that Jesus taught and lived: life is lived fully not by surrendering it to self-survival instincts or the dominating powers. Life is fully lived when it can make a difference to others, that it can transform society and make it into a mirror of God’s Kingdom.
In the first reading, Jeremiah known as “the weeping prophet” because of his lamentations for the sins of Israel, reflects on the costs of being God’s faithful mouthpiece. “The word of the Lord has meant for me insult, derision all day long”. Jeremiah had spoken against the movers and shakers who took advantage of the politically unstable and chaotic situation in Israel prior to the Babylonian captivity. He had condemned the corruption, moral decay, idolatry, shifting alliances, and opportunism in Israel. His stance was not popular.
As a result, he was attacked by his own brothers, imprisoned by the king, put into the stocks by the temple priests, and thrown into a cistern by the court officials. In the end, though, he remained fully committed and faithful to his mission in the face of adversity. He shows us what it means to live by one’s principle, to have moral courage, and to walk the long hard road of fidelity.
Such courage and commitment are also demanded of the disciples as evident by the Gospel reading. “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me.” These words of Jesus form the kernel of Christian discipleship. To be his follower is to walk the path of the cross. It is to lose oneself for the sake of the Kingdom. It is to commit oneself not to self-preservation but to self-sacrifice for the sake of others.
“For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it”. Peter had a shock to his system when he heard these words. He learned that he could only be a true rock when he had the courage to emulate the Suffering Servant. On the other hand, he would be a stumbling rock or an obstacle, if he emptied Christian discipleship of the cross.
Jesus challenges us as he challenged Peter to move from the cultural model of power, dominion, and self-preservation to the new Kingdom model of service, love, and self-sacrifice. Paul echoes the teaching of Jesus by saying: “Do not model yourselves on the behaviour of the world around you” but instead discern the will of God and do what He wants.
Like Jeremiah and Peter, we are asked to consciously live in the power of the God of love in the midst of defeat and failure. By nature, we survive by fighting and winning. But Jesus gives us a new model of living by surrender to the process of defeat, suffering, and dying. At every moment we have a simple choice: to absorb in ourselves the stress of setback or to react against it by inflicting hurt or pain on another.
In the midst of the pandemic that has caused so much suffering and disruption, we ask ourselves where God is in this; we struggle to make sense of our Christian faith. Jesus today is presented not as a magician who could will the cross away. He is the Suffering Servant and a compassionate Messiah. May we have the courage to follow the example of Christ and live fully the demands of Christian discipleship. May we live the powerlessness and vulnerability of Jesus as a way to share with the suffering and to rebuild human society with kindness and compassion.