To read the texts click on the texts: Jer 20:7-9; Rom12:1-2; Mt 16:21-27
Today’s readings begin with an example of what is called in scriptural writings a lament. The prophet Jeremiah laments about unbearable pain, and misery at unspeakable horrors and uncontrollable events that surround him in his life as a prophet of God’s Word. He is hostile towards God whom he believes has “seduced” or “duped” him, and he is convinced that he will no more mention God or speak in God’s name. Yet, even as he says this, he realizes that he cannot abandon his prophetic mission which is a fire burning in his heart, imprisoned in his bones. He is compelled from within to proclaim God’s word. The Word of God that comes to him, in response to his outburst of rage, is disquieting. He becomes aware that the misery is not going to stop or go away. There will be no respite from his torments and horrors. God simply assures Jeremiah of his presence, to strengthen him to withstand more misery. Jeremiah must continue to believe even in his unbelief, he must continue to have faith even in his lack of faith.
Peter’s objection to Jesus’ words of his passion, death and resurrection in the Gospel text of today sound like the first part of Jeremiah’s lament: Why must God’s son suffer? Why should he die on a Cross? Peter states emphatically that this can never be. Surely there is another way. However, in his response to Peter, Jesus realizes, like Jeremiah, that it has to be this way. This is why Peter is called “Satan” which here is to be understood as one who intends to take Jesus away from his mission and so the will of his Father. Peter is a stumbling block, and Jesus will let nothing and no one stand between him and his Father’s will. He realizes that God’s word and will for him is so compelling that he cannot but fulfill it. It burns in his heart too like a fire that cannot be quenched. Though common sense and reason would rally against going to the Cross, to the Cross he must and will go.
Inspired by this example of Jesus, Paul, writing to the Romans, urges them to imitate the Lord who did not conform to this world but dared to offer his body as a living and holy sacrifice to God.
Like Jeremiah and Peter, every one of us comes across something that is, for all intents and purposes, unbearable. Millions of people all over the world do not have enough to eat and are malnourished, while others have more than they will ever need. Numerous people have no roof over their heads while others build mansions. A baby dies at birth, another is born deformed. Sooner or later, bearing the unbearable, we realize how little control we have over so much that damages our society and ourselves. Grief, rage and fear flash to the surface of consciousness and we wonder then about the kind of God that we believe in. Can this be the God of love? Can this be the God who demands justice? Can this be the God who makes no distinction between persons? Can this be the God of the poor and downtrodden? Why must the world we live in be filled with so much misery and pain?
When we are bearing the unbearable and are not able to fully understand it, we need a God who has suffered the depths of weakness, hopelessness, helplessness and even despair as we ourselves do. No other God can be trusted to understand, and this is the Good News of God in Christ. Whatever the unbearable suffering, whatever the uncontrollable events that afflict and grieve us to the core of our being, God has seen it, known it, experienced it and taken it into his own life in Jesus who was crucified, who died and who was raised on the third day. This is why we must not take suffering out of the Jesus story, since it says to us that God has not obliterated or removed every misery that seems unbearable, that God has not taken away all cause of pain and anger in human life, not even that God controls all things, but that God is the one who bears the misery, pain and helplessness with us and for us. By bearing the unbearable, God overcomes it and faithfully keeps the conversation open for life.