The vocation to be a prophet is not an easy one. Prophets are tasked with telling people the plain, unvarnished truth about God. Their words can be quite unpalatable. Most, if not all, of us would much rather not hear hard truths. Therefore it comes as no surprise that in our first reading this morning, the prophet Jeremiah is feeling rejected and miserable. He has been prophesying the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, but, because this has not yet happened, he is seen as a fraud. Jeremiah starts to doubt God, and yet there is a burning fire within himself to call God’s people to repentance. However, when he announces this he is mocked. Jeremiah feels let down.
Last week we read Peter’s declaration that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. Following on from this, Jesus tells His disciples what must happen to Him:
He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. (Mt 16:21)
Jesus’ words must have come as something of a shock to the disciples. This isn’t what is supposed to happen to the Messiah, so Peter takes Jesus to one side and tells Him off! Peter cannot understand what needs to happen. He has forgotten prophecies like Isaiah 53 which tell of the Suffering Servant. Peter cannot take it in — he does not want Jesus’ prophetic words to take place. This is a very human response. We also don’t want such appalling things to happen. Then it is Peter’s turn to be told off. Jesus says to him:
“Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Mt 16:23)
In just a couple of verses Peter has gone from being the rock upon which the church will be built, to being Satan, the deceiver, the devil, and a stumbling block. Peter has run the whole length of the spectrum, from getting things right to getting them totally wrong. There are no half-measures with Simon Peter. He jumps in with both feet. He may be right or wrong, but he is certainly committed, and through this commitment Jesus sees Peter as a leader. But the disciples’ inability to understand what Jesus is saying has led him to try and oppose the will of God. Peter, the Rock, has become a stumbling-block, an obstacle, something to trip over. Peter can only see things in human terms, but God has something else in store. The Cross is inevitable for the simple reason that God loves us that much. However, the Cross is not just for Christ. It is for each and every one of as Christians: we are called to bear it ourselves.
As believers, we are to take up our Cross and follow Jesus. We should be under no illusion; it isn’t easy to take up the Cross. We cannot do it on our own, we have to do it together, as a community, relying upon God, and loving and forgiving each other. All the power, all the wealth in the world, is worth nothing compared to finding true life in Christ. Worldly things cannot save us, they cannot give us eternal life, they cannot wipe clean our sins. Only Jesus can do this, on the Cross. Only in Christ can we have life — life in its fullness. Only if we lose our old life by following Him, can we find what our human life can truly be.
Thus the Church, in following Jesus, offers a radical alternative to the ways of selfishness and sin, an alternative which has the power to change the world through being conformed to Christ. We can do this together, by living out our faith and encouraging others to do so; by living lives of profound love, something that is difficult, and costly, and wonderful.
Today, through prayer, through our conversation with God, throughlistening to God, we are nourished by the Word of God, the Bible, to know that God loves us, and will help us to live out that love and forgiveness in our lives. We are also nourished by the sacraments of the Church, by Holy Communion, so that the love which God shows to the world on the Cross continues to be poured out upon us, so that we can be strengthened to live out the life of faith. It is food for our souls, so that we may be built up in love. Let us turn to the Living God, to be fed by Him, fed with Him, to have new life in Him, so that He can continue to transform our human nature and follow His example. Let us take up our Cross, as people ransomed, healed, restored and forgiven by the love of God on the Cross.
In the Letter to the Romans, St Paul describes what love in action looks like. We are guided as to how to put our faith, into practice in our lives: by living out the love and forgiveness which we have received, turning from the ways of the world and following the way of God. The Christian life is sacrificial in that it involves personal sacrifice, and also by uniting ourselves to the sacrifice of Christ. This world cannot save us, only Christ can do that. The ways of the world cannot give us true happiness, or eternal life. Their promises are false. Only Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (Jn 14:6) can save us. Only Christ can transform us, and this transformation lies at the heart of the proclamation of the Kingdom. Only by losing our life can we find it.
As Christians we embrace paradox, because God loves us enough to be born as one of us, to proclaim and live out the truth, healing and reconciliation, which He longs to lavish upon us. In Christ, God dies so that we might live. Words cannot express just how earth-shattering and transformative Divine Love is. It is a mystery, in the fullest sense of the word. God’s love and mercy are greater than anything we can know or imagine. We keep making mistakes, but God’s love is unconditional, we cannot earn it, it is freely offered to transform us. Thus, our faith is the work of a lifetime. Day by day God’s grace can perfect our nature, if we are humble enough to let God be at work in us. We pray that God’s grace may transform us so that, in this life and the next, we and all creation may give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to who whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever. Amen.