Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time Jer 20:7-9; Psalm 63:2-9; Rom 12:1-2; Mt 16:21-27 Saint John Baptist de LaSalle/Saint Stephen September 3, 2023
Some friends of mine called to say that their house at Holden Beach was available for rent if I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity, and so I did. I spent the last ten days there, and it was extremely refreshing time, with exceptions. Early Wednesday morning, my telephone rang. It awakened me from a deep sleep, and at ten past five, I wondered who was calling. The man asked if this was the Catholic Church, and I mumbled that it was. "I’d like to ask you some questions," he said, and with that, I asked him who he was. He said his name did not matter, that he had moved here from New York several years ago and was looking for a good Bible-based church to join. "Do you realize that it’s five o’clock in the morning?" I said, "Call me back later in the day, and I will talk to you then." "I’m talking to you right now," he said, "you had better listen, because you’re a priest and the Church is always open." "Well, the Church is closed right now, and I’m not talking to you. Call me back later, and we can talk," and with that, I hung up the phone. He did call back, three more times, all in about five minutes. I did not answer.
I was convinced that what I did was right, and then I got thinking about last week’s Gospel. Jesus was telling Peter that he was the Rock, the very one who would lead the Church. Jesus had given Peter the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, meaning that Peter and all who are followers of Jesus would have the same power to do as Jesus had done. Through work and prayer, we are able to see that if we take up our cross and follow Jesus, we can do the very same things Jesus did. Now, taking up a cross and being a servant to others does not appeal to most people. Instead, almost everyone in the world sees this as a waste of one’s life. Like Jeremiah in today’s First Reading, we complain to God: "You duped me, oh Lord, and I let myself be duped. All I have gotten from life has made me an object of laughter, and everyone makes fun of me."
Well, some of us might say, "You should not talk to God this way." It’s as if we are afraid to hurt God’s feelings, or God might be angry with us, or we might drive God away from us. Even Peter can’t understand how this cross business can possibly make sense. However, our Christian way of life is always a strange mix of power and servitude. Christ has given us all great power. We all have the power to heal. We all have the power to forgive. We have the power to make Christ present in the Eucharist and in all of the other sacraments. We have tremendous power. But all of this power only makes sense when it is used to serve others. When we have used the power of God to dominate others, we have strayed from Christ’s will. When we have used the power of the Gospel to bring hope to the poor and the lowly, then we have done as Christ intended for us to do.
Yet, in every age there are well-meaning people who believe that God’s way isn’t the best way, and this guy from New York did not stop. He sent me an email that would take me over twenty minutes to read, hours if you were to look up every passage from Scripture he listed. He was trying to convince me that, according to the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation, the Anti-Christ would come from the Middle East to persecute both Jews and Christians. He went on to say that the Anti-Christ must be a Muslim, that Muslims are evil and cannot be trusted, and that former President Trump had been sent by God to keep the Muslims out of our country so that we can all be safe. I gave up and went back to bed.
Is what he was saying any different than Peter saying to Jesus, "Lord, certainly there must be another way than the way of the Cross?" You see, the anti-Christ image is of an individual with the power to convince or seduce believers into trusting in the ways of the world rather than in the ways of Christ. It is a power Jesus rightly condemned in Peter, when he said, "Get behind me, Satan." It is a power that Jesus condemns in all who would use the world for their own gain. Today, in our own life, what are the powers that seduce us? Are we too easily taken in by the belief that those who are poor must be feared, especially if they speak a different language or are of a different race? Are we seduced by the world, which says that only wealth and power matter? Maybe our seduction is by leisure and pleasure. We are seduced into thinking that it is our birthright as Americans to have plenty of leisure time. No one should expect us to give up our cars, boats, vacations, and time off on weekends, not for one minute. God forbid that golf, the mall, or fishing would take precedence over Sunday Mass. Unless we take on the mind of Christ, we will be too easily swayed by the violence, pleasure, or wealth of our world. We will too easily cast people aside who are different from us or we will try to change them by making them act as we want. That is not the mind of Christ. We are called this day to be seduced by Christ. Let the way of Jesus, his will, fill us up. Anything that gets in the way of Christ’s will must be changed. It is the only way that the Cross and the way of sacrifice of Jesus will make sense. Otherwise, the Lord will say to us, "Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do"