What does God think?
Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Aug. 31
Jeremiah 20:7-9; Psalm 63:2,3-4,5-6,8-9; Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 16:21-27
What profit would there be to gain the whole world with all its power, material wealth and prestige and forfeit one’s life? That age-old question is still critical in our 21st century just as it has been in every century of mankind. The accumulation of wealth, possessions and power — the whole world? — is the goal our culture seeks to achieve above all else. Yet at death, what do we have?
What does God think? This is a question that is not often asked. Today’s readings have to do with God’s frame of reference. We act according to God’s will insofar as we can discern it.
Jeremiah courageously preached God’s word in the late seventh or early eighth century B.C. He warned the kings to surrender to the new Babylonians rather than resist them. His countrymen reacted violently and made him the laughingstock of them all. But the word of God is “like a burning fire” so Jeremiah continued to preach in spite of their refusal to listen.
Jeremiah was placed in stocks, banished from the temple, arrested, beaten, imprisoned and thrown into a muddy cistern to smother. Of all the prophets Jeremiah suffered most in being faithful to his mission. In this he foreshadows and anticipates the fate of the suffering servant who is faithful and ultimately vindicated.
Paul encourages his followers to reflect God’s mercy in their relationships and in this way praise God. He urges the Romans to adopt a way of thinking and acting that goes beyond the world of pragmatic policies: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Their task, then, is to discern God’s will. In other words, they must attempt to ask what God thinks.
This Sunday’s Gospel frankly tells us sharing in Jesus’ divine glory means we must share in his suffering and death. If we want to go where Jesus went — to glory! — there is only one road: to Jerusalem, where humiliation, suffering and death await.
The human response is to turn away as Peter did because he cannot understand a suffering Messiah and the divine call to take up the cross. To him it makes no sense to say that suffering and death are the way to glory.
But Jesus does not expect of us any suffering that he has not endured. He shares with us the glory he himself is given: “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” The cross and the glory go together.
Peter is slow to understand God’s way.
Through the revelation of God, Peter perceives that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God, but he cannot understand Jesus’ mission. He suggests an easier way to carry out the will of God, but Jesus says, “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
Jesus follows God’s standards, which means to lose oneself for God’s sake means to find oneself! Peter is slow to understand sometimes and so are we. To help us, God speaks through our friends, through the Christian community, and through our consciences. It is therefore a question of discerning God’s will in the many ways it is present in our lives.
We are urged to be like Jesus in presuming that God may have a bigger and better way to accomplish the divine plan. It is Jesus — as well as Jeremiah and Paul — who would have us ask: What does God think?
A former educator and pastoral minister, Sister Michelle Rheinlander, OSB, is now engaged in a ministry of writing at St. Mary Monastery in Rock Island.