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August, 27 2014

22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

Dr. Susan Fleming McGurgan

In the beginning was the Word.

 The Word spoke,

and out of chaos,

came life:

man, woman and earth, teeming with life.   

The Word spoke,

and along with life, we were given both terrible freedom and powerful joy.

God the Speaker proclaims his Word in rich abundance—

from the mouths of prophets,

through the lives of saints,

in the wonder of creation,

and embedded deep within the books of the Bible.  

God speaks,

but sometimes…

his children refuse to listen.

 

God speaks,

but sometimes…

his people are afraid to listen. 

The Bible is filled with encounters both heroic and appalling—

moments when God speaks to men and women,

engaging them—

turning their assumptions backward,

and upside down,

drawing them closer

and inviting them to come home.  

 

These encounters are important gifts—

they are way-stations and hospices along our spiritual path.

Through these dialogues, we can listen in on God and overhear his words

as our ancestors wrestled with fear and faith; with good and evil;

and with what it means to lose your life,

in order to find it.

 

These scriptural dialogues challenge us to ask:   

If this were my encounter with God, how would it turn out?

How would I respond?  

Would I draw close in wonder?

Would I turn away in shame?

Would I even understand?

 

Peter’s dialogues with Jesus are always dynamic and rarely predictable.

Some are filled with faith—

such as the moment at Caesarea Philippi,

when Jesus asked, “But who do you say that I am?”

and Peter was inspired to say,    

“You are the Christ, the son of the living God!”

 

But other encounters are painful reminders of our fragile humanity.

They are transcripts of a soul still struggling to believe the unbelievable. 

 When Jesus foretold his suffering upon the cross,  

Peter protested,

his mind reeling from such a fate and he cried out,

“God forbid, Lord!

No such thing shall ever happen to you!”

Jesus rebuked Peter, saying,  “Get behind me, Satan!”

 

In other words,

Peter, you just don’t “get it”… yet.  

You need to listen more carefully and follow more closely.  

You still have much to learn.

If you want to follow me,

first,

you must lose your life, in order to save it.

 

This dialogue reminds us that we, too,

have much to learn about following the Lord.   

 

For Peter,

the idea that his Lord would embrace death upon the cross—

that he would willingly walk out to meet violence,  

suffering,

injustice,  

made him cry out in fear.     

 

For us,

long familiarity with the cross can smooth out its jagged edges;

tame it; 

and in the process, we lose its radical call.  

This dialogue between Peter and the Lord reminds us that being a disciple   

means more than putting on a piece of jewelry or joining the right congregation.    

Following Jesus means more than attending a rally

or purchasing something for our walls.    

 Taking up the cross means more than offering up our burdens,

or soldiering on

in the face of difficult odds.  

Taking on Christ means taking on a whole new way of being;

a new way of hearing and living God’s Word.

 

As Peter continued to listen in on God,

he began to understand the lessons of the cross.

He began to see as God sees.  

 He began to understand,

not that God would prevent all pain—

remove all barriers—

take away all sorrow—

but rather,

that these burdens could be transformed by the presence of the cross. 

 

The cross he first denied,

dared Peter to believe that evil could be redeemed,

that sins could be forgiven,

that suffering was not the final word.

 

As he continued his dialogue with God,

Peter discovered that even the agony of death could be the beginning of life.

 Christ's death on the cross is both the Paschal sacrifice that redeems us,

and the sacrifice of the new covenant restoring our communion with God. * CCC 631

 

No catechism book or theology class can explain this mystery completely—

even as we bow down and worship,  

we still struggle to understand.  

 

But no matter what road we choose,

and no matter which way we turn,

if we claim to follow the Lord,

we will eventually find ourselves,

like Peter,

standing directly before the cross.  

 

Like Peter,

we are offered both a challenge and an invitation.

Like Peter, we are asked, “Who do you say that I am?”

And immediately after we answer,

You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”

we will be invited to lose our lives,

in order to find them.  

 

© Susan Fleming McGurgan

     

 

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