Well, the readings today are quite a handful, aren’t they? First we have poor Jeremiah, the prophet. He’s ticked off. He’s miffed. He’s mad at the Lord. Or, maybe he’s mad at himself. He says, “you duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped.”
Jeremiah is the object of ridicule and scorn because he’s been proclaiming the Lord’s message. But he can’t stop. He can’t help himself. He says “it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in.”
Next comes Paul, writing to the Romans. He tells them to offer their bodies as a living sacrifice. “Wait! What? What kind of religion IS this? I thought we sacrificed lambs, and goats, and doves and stuff. You want me to offer my own body!? What’s up with that?”
He also tells them, AND US, not to conform to this age, “but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God.” The Romans were pagans. They were used to gods who gave them stuff. Now this Jew is telling them something totally different. It couldn’t have been easy being Paul. Like Jeremiah, he suffered his share of scorn and ridicule and time in prison.
Finally, we have the words of Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus is speaking to His disciples about what was going to happen to Him. But Peter rebukes Him! Imagine that. You have to admire Peter for having the intestinal fortitude to rebuke Jesus. But he pays the price. “Get thee behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
With Peter suitably put in his place, Jesus turns back to the disciples. By the way, exactly what IS a disciple? The dictionary says it’s “a follower or student of a teacher, leader, or philosopher.” In this context, the disciples were obviously the people who followed Christ. And by follow, I mean they physically followed Him around. But they also hung on every word He said and did their best to follow His teachings.
Matthew ends his Gospel with these words of Jesus, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And, behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
But back to today’s Gospel. He tells His disciples, his followers, his students, that they must deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow Him. He tells them that if they lose their lives for His sake they will save their lives. He promises them, and us, that he will repay all of us according to our conduct.
Three readings. Jeremiah is the object of ridicule and scorn for delivering the Lord’s message. Paul tells the Romans that they must sacrifice themselves. Jesus tells His disciples that they must take up their crosses and follow Him, losing their lives to save them.
These are very Catholic messages. I say that because a lot of churches have become very popular preaching what is sometimes called “the prosperity Gospel”. If you follow Jesus, everything will be great! God will give you anything you want if you just ask Him. If He doesn’t answer your prayers it’s because you’re not holy enough. It sounds good and attracts a lot of people, especially poor people. Often these “prosperity preachers” make the poor even poorer by asking them to “give ‘til it hurts” knowing that God will provide. Unfortunately, the only one who seems to proper from the “prosperity gospel” are the “prosperity preachers.”
Our Gospel message isn’t that you’re going to prosper in this world, but that what God has prepared for us in the next world is so far beyond the riches of this world that we can’t even comprehend it.
So, how do we get to the next world? How do we get one of those many places that the Father has prepared for us? There’s a good answer in our missalettes, in the little italicized section at the beginning of today’s readings. You may not normally read it, but today it’s especially good.
“No wonder Peter rebukes Jesus! Jesus “began to show his disciples” [there’s that word again] what faithful discipleship demands: denying self, losing self, letting self die. Jesus teaches his disciples to let go of self so that a new self can be given. What we relinquish is ourselves as we are now; what we are given is a new self, born from identifying completely with Jesus. It takes a lifetime of discipleship to embrace Jesus’ way of living. It takes a lifetime of discipleship to let Jesus transform our life into His life.”
The writer uses the word “disciple” or “discipleship” five times in that short passage. It must be important. In fact, it’s more than important, it’s critical to our eternal life. The big question for all of us is “Am I a disciple?” Do I identify completely with Jesus. Have I let go of my self? Have I denied my self? Have I let my self die? If not, why not?
Is Jesus part of my everyday life, or is the sum total of my so-called discipleship coming to mass once a week? We all know people who call themselves Catholics who can’t even manage to do that! Today’s readings are a real challenge for all of us. It’s right there in black and white. If we’re serious about our eternal souls, and I can’t imagine why we wouldn’t be, then we have to be true disciples; not occasional disciples, not once a week disciples, but 100% disciples, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
We’re not called to do the least we can, we’re called to do ALL that we can. We’re called to let go of our selves. We’re called to deny our selves. We’re called to let our selves die. If we insist on holding on to our old selves then maybe we should rethink our priorities. It’s like they say on the airliners, we have to put on our oxygen masks first, then help others with theirs. We can’t make disciples if we aren’t disciples ourselves.