22nd Sunday in Ordinary Times
Jeremiah 20:7-9; Rom. 12:1-2; Gospel of Matthew 16:21-27
Choosing “Pains and sufferings” . . . Get Real?!

Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of Good Shepherd, on 3 September 2017

In today’s Gospel that we just heard proclaimed, Jesus told His Disciples that He is destined to go to Jerusalem and suffer grievously at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be put to death and to be raised up on the third day.  To this Peter, immediately remarked, “Heaven preserve You Lord.  This must not happen to You.”  We all know that Peter said this out of his love for Jesus, for he did not want Jesus to suffer and die, at the hands of the elders, chief priests and scribes. 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, “How many of you here, would dare to enter into marriage, if your fiancé were to say to you, ‘If you want to marry me, then renounce yourself, take up your cross and then marry me?!’”  Many of you after many years of marriage, let us call these people David, would probably say, “O my goodness, if I had only known what the sufferings would be in marriage, I would never have married to my wife.”  However, there will be others, let us call these people Joseph who would say, ‘Well, after facing all the pains and trials of my marriage, even if I am given the second chance, I would still choose to marry my wife; the pains and trials are part of our marriage and the joys and fulfilment of our marriage is worth all the sleepless nights and the disagreements and hurts we experienced together.  We have both grown and matured over the years together, with our children and grandchildren.” 

We could say that there are generally two types of responses toward the pains and trials of life: the “David types” who turn away from pain and suffering, and the “Joseph type” who would be able to see beyond the pain and suffering in life, and see the meaning of commitment and love.  In fact, Peter’s emotional and spontaneous love for Jesus, was one that was more like that of the “David type.”  His love for Jesus was naturally protective.  Because he loved Jesus, he did not want to see Jesus suffer in any way.  

However, in doing so, Peter only heard half of what Jesus proclaimed, and as such he did not hear the second half of the Truth that, “On the third day, Jesus will rise again.”  Likewise, for us too, when we experience pain and trials in our relationships, we tend to look only at the hurts and pain, like the David type of people, and not see the greater joy and deeper fulfilment of the committed love we are all called to live.

My sisters and brothers in Christ, the “protective love” we have for people we love is also the same love we have for ourselves; we try ways and means to avoid pain and trials in life.  While such love is naturally good, if we are not careful, not reflective and not discerning enough, our protective love can turn into a self-centred “David’s type” of love, where we turn away and avoid all forms of pain and suffering in life, and as such do not face the reality of the challenges in the commitment we are called to make in life.  This could happen in our married, priesthood and religious vocation, or commitment to our family needs, our work demands, or in any relationships or services that we are engaged in, whether in the Church or elsewhere. 

Philip Yancy, is a famous journalist and the editor of the magazine, Christianity Today.  His books have sold over 14 million copies over the years, and have been translated into 25 languages, and distributed all over the world; with many of them having won prestigious awards.  In his book, “The Jesus I Never Knew,” Philip Yancy writes, “My career as a journalist has offered me opportunities to interview ‘stars’ including great football players, movie actors, music performers, best-selling authors, politicians and TV personalities.  These are the people who dominate the media.” 

“We fawn over them, pouring over the minutest details of their lives: the clothes they wear, the food that eat, their aerobic routines they keep, the people they love, and even the toothpaste they use.  Yet, I must tell you that, in my limited experience, I have found . . . that these “idols” are as miserable a group of people as I have ever met.  Most have troubled or broken marriages.  Nearly all are incurably dependent on psychotherapy.  In a heavy irony, these larger-than-life heroes and heroines seem tormented by self-doubt.”

However, “I have also spent time with people I call “servants.”  Doctors and nurses who work among the ultimate outcasts, leprosy patients in rural India.  A Princeton graduate who runs a hotel for the homeless in Chicago.  Health workers who have left high-paying jobs to serve in the backwater town of Mississippi.  Relief workers in Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, and other repositories of human suffering.  The Ph.D.s I met in Arizona, who are now scattered throughout jungles of South America translating the Bible into obscure languages.”

“I was prepared to honour and admire these servants, to hold them up as inspiring examples. But, I was not prepared to envy them.  Yet, as I now reflect on the two groups side by side, “stars and servants,” the “servants” clearly emerge as the favoured ones; the graced ones.  Without question, I would rather spend time among the “servants” than among the “stars”: they possess qualities of depth and richness and even joy that I have not found elsewhere.  “Servants” work for low pay, long hours, and no applause, ‘wasting’ their talents and skills among the poor and uneducated, and (the rejected, despised by secular society).”

My brothers and sisters in Christ, if we reflect on the deeper meaning of what Jesus proclaimed today that, we are called to “renounce ourselves, take up our cross and then follow Him,” Jesus is not simply and superficially asking us to embrace the pains and sufferings of our lives, and call them “crosses” that we as His followers are called to carry.  Instead, Jesus is inviting us fundamentally to become more wholesome and be more like Him in the way we live.  Jesus is totally committed and obedient to His Father’s Will, to save all of humankind.  As such, Jesus is willing to pay the price of such unconditional love, and willingly suffered and died for us.  And that was why, when Peter tried to persuade Jesus not to go to Jerusalem to Suffer and Die, even as it was coming from Peter’s protective love for Jesus, Jesus firmly refused and reprimanded him for trying to dissuade Him from fulfilling His Father’s Will. 

My sisters and brothers in Christ, as I sum up and conclude, I believe it is clear for us that the “Joseph type” of married commitment that can see beyond the pain and sufferings of the vocation, and the “servants type” of persons, that Philip Yancy writes about that serve selflessly the common needs of humanity, especially those who are poor and needy, are closer to what Jesus in today’s Gospel is inviting us to become. 

And so, as you and I are called to “renounce ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Jesus,” we know that Jesus is inviting us to live a life that is “Others and Christ-centred” rather than the self-centered, “David type and the stars type” of lifestyles that we know will never bring the peace, meaning and fulfilment that we and every human person longs to have in our hearts and homes.  This is also because, if we are the “David and stars type” of people, then Jesus in today’s Gospel is clearly reminding us, “For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for My sake will find it.  What, then, will a man gain, if he wins the whole world and ruins his life?” 

In other words, Jesus is very simply saying to you and to me, that nothing, no one and none of the gains of this world can be lasting, regardless of how much glory and glamour they may bring us.  What then matters most in our life, is what can last forever. 

Let us then pray for the wisdom to live for God, instead of slave for what does not last.  Indeed, live a more discerning life where we will be wise enough to choose the essentials of life that lasts forever, and know that the non-essentials and superficial, material and ego-centered needs are merely passing fancies and even though they appear to be so tempting and gratifying, they are in reality hollow; because they do not give us deep and lasting peace, and happiness that we all so long to live daily.  And, so let us pray that we will live the Will of God daily, regardless of the crosses that God may place on our shoulders. |

(Ref: Hearts Burning, Homilies for the Sundays of the Year, Cycle A,B,C), Nel Guillemette, pp.120-121)

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

1,708 visitors since 4 September 2017