Sunday, August 30, 2020


Peter took Jesus aside and began to scold him.

Matthew 16:21-27

Up to this point in the gospel, things were going very well in the ministry of Jesus. A mute man was able to speak. Five thousand had been miraculously fed on one day and four thousand on another. A blind man had regained his sight. A successful exorcism had been performed on a young demon-possessed girl. Another young girl had been lifted well from her sick bed. A woman with a hemorrhage had been restored to health. An insane man had been given back his sanity. A man with a withered hand had it made healthy again. A leper had been cleansed from his leprosy. A crippled man was made able to walk. A storm was calmed. Peter was able to walk on water. A deaf man with a speech impediment was able to hear and speak plainly. 

Peter was so overcome with excitement by all these things that he was moved to call Jesus the "Messiah." He was the very first one to do this. The "Messiah" was the "promised one to come" that Jews had looked forward to for centuries, one who would do such things as these. The lights went on for Peter! He had come to the conclusion that Jesus had to be the "Messiah” that had finally come! 

Jesus immediately took the wind out of his sails, telling him that the Messiah would not only do wondrous things, but would have to go through great suffering, rejection by religious authorities and even death on a cross. Only then would he rise victorious from the dead after three days. 

Peter did not like what he was hearing, so he took Jesus aside to scold him. "Look, Jesus, we are on a roll here. The people are behind you. Soon we will be able to conquer these foreign Roman invaders occupying our country and finally throw them out. Then you can be king and we can all be part of your royal court. Please don't blow it now with all that negative talk about suffering and death!" 

When he heard this, Jesus spun around in disgust and said to himself, "Satan said he would be back to tempt me again and here he is disguised as Peter!" Jesus then looked at all of his disciples and addressed Peter directly, "Get behind me, Satan! You are not thinking like God, but like a human being! I went through these kinds of temptations in the desert before I began my ministry! I rejected them then and I reject them now! That is not what God wants from me!" 

As Peter's face fell, Jesus addressed the whole crowd following him, "Now listen up because you need to get one thing straight! If you are going to follow me, you have to be ready to suffer with me, for whoever loses his life will my sake will save it. Otherwise, if you go down the path that Peter has just proposed, you will certainly lose it! You will not be thinking like God, but like human beings!" 

Just because Jesus stood up to Peter in this story, we do not need to conclude from this story that it's never OK to scold and argue with God. The fact is that many of the major figures in the Bible and church history argued, scolded and had words with God - people like Job, Jeremiah and Theresa of Avila. Just as Peter learned a lesson today, sometimes the only way they learned what God's will was for them was through a struggle. As any good teacher knows, encouraging, challenging, questioning, discussion and debate are the best way to learn. Like students, when disciples are allowed to think through and discover things for themselves, the best learning takes place. 

The prophet, Jeremiah is a case in point. Jeremiah was a very young when God called him to be a prophet and to preach in his name. God says to Jeremiah, "Hey, Jeremiah! I've had my eye on you since the moment of your conception. I want you to go to the people and preach to them for me!" What was Jeremiah's response? "No thank you! I'm not interested in preaching to anybody! I'm too young! I have other things I want to do in life! Besides, I'm not good at public speaking!" God snaps back, "Do as I say and don't give me those lame excuses! Wherever I send you, I will be with you! And don't worry about what to say, I will put the right words into you mouth as you go along." 

This wasn't the last time that Jeremiah argued with God. After he was deeply involved in his ministry as prophet and everything seemed to be going wrong, Jeremiah returns to give God a royal chewing out. "You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped. When I speak in your name, I am a butt of people's jokes and mockery. I tell you what! I quit! Take this job and shove it. I ain't working here no more! From now on I am never going to mention your name again!" 

After he had unloaded his guns on God, Jeremiah must have felt better because he follows his rant with these words. "On the other hand, your words are like a fire in my heart. They are embedded in my bones. I grow tired trying to hold them in. I guess I'll just have to keep going!" 

Sisters, many of us grew up being told that faith is about unthinking trust and acceptance of God, the Bible, the teachings of the Church and the trials of life. To question any of those things was to demonstrate a weak faith and a blasphemous heart. However, faith does not grow through unthinking submission, but through a process of questioning that leads to understanding. Just as Jacob wrestled with the angel, a real commitment to God often involves a deep, honest and sustained wrestling with God. The only sin is never to enter the ring, but just walk away because the struggle is too much trouble! The real sin is to dismiss God without ever really engaging him, not arguing with him! If you insist on rejecting God and his Church, at least do it after an honest fight! At least, give God a chance to win! 

I challenged you to enter the ring with the rest of us. We go into the ring as a tag team. Together, we wrestle with God - in here and on the floors of the Home. We need to put up a good fight and not wimp out just because we are old, lazy or scared. God will win, of course, but when the match is over, we will all know more about God and how he operates than we did when we first entered the ring. We will have flexed spiritual muscles we never knew we had and we will be strong enough to handle the inevitable struggles of religious life or priesthood to the end! 

Finally, always remember the words of St. Jeanne Jugan who lived in tougher times than ours, “Jesus is waiting for you in the chapel. Go and find him when your strength and patience are giving out, when you feel lonely and helpless. Say to him: ‘You know well what is happening, my dear Jesus. I have only you. Come to my aid….’ And then go your way. And don’t worry about knowing how you are going to manage. It is enough to have told our good Lord. He has an excellent memory.” 

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