22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A – September 3, 2023

 

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A – September 3, 2023

Jeremiah 20: 7-9; Romans 12: 1-2; Matthew 16: 21-27

 

Theme: How do we Respond to the Love of God?

The Catholic Church has dedicated the month of September to the Word of God. So, worldwide, we celebrate the month of the Bible this month. The Church exhorts all faithful Christians to venerate the Word of God in the Church as well as in our families. First, in the liturgy of the Mass, we are called to celebrate the Word of God with reverence and participate in it actively. This means we should listen attentively when God speaks to us in the scripture readings and pay attention to the priest or deacon when they interpret the Word of God to us in homilies. Second, our Mother Church encourages all parishes to establish Bible Study groups to give opportunities to the faithful to meditate, read, and study the Word of God. Since July 1st of this year when I was officially appointed your pastor, I have promised you and prepared all of us that we will start a Weekly Bible Study Group in our parish with me. So last Friday was the official start. Note that our Weekly Bible Study group is not only for the month of September but for all the months. We meet every Friday at 6: 00 pm in the conference room in the office to meditate, study, and share the Gospel that will be read that weekend. Third, the Church also urges all families to venerate the Word of God at home. I recommend a “Family Bible Corner” which I think is the best option to better celebrate the Bible in our families. A “Family Bible Corner” is a suitable place that you prepare in one corner of your living room where you display an open Bible. It could be a small table, for example, covered with a white tablecloth (or any liturgical colors: red, purple, or green), well decorated with flowers, candles, and maybe with a crucifix or rosary. The Family Bible Corner should be visible to anyone who enters the house. Its purpose is to remind the household members and the guest visitors that the Word of God is the center of our family. This Family Bible Corner can also be used as the place where the family meets together for family prayer, Bible sharing, or any gathering.

The theme I chose for the month of the Word of God this year is “Why We Should Always Forgive and Reconcile with Those Who Sin Against Us”. Before we talk about reconciliation (next Sunday) and forgiveness (September 17th), our Mother Church wants us to meditate today on how we should respond to the love of God. We will close the month of the Word of God (Sunday, September 24th) with the parable of the Workers in the Vineyard which will teach us that we are saved by God’s generosity and grace.

Let us now reflect on today’s readings. In his letter to the Romans, Saint Paul first described at length God’s great love for human beings (Rm 1 – 11). The big sign of the love of God is the coming of his only Son, Jesus Christ, to save humanity from the captivity of sins. Second, starting in Chapter 12, which is our second reading of this Sunday, Saint Paul talks about Christian ethics as a response to God’s love. For him, a response to the great love of God consists of offering our bodies as a living sacrifice, not conforming ourselves to this age, being transformed by the renewal of our mind, and discerning what is the will of God (see Rom 12: 1-2). The liturgy of this Sunday deals with our response as Christians to the love of God.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus commences by revealing to his disciples how he will respond to the love of God his Father. He told them that in Jerusalem where they were going, he would suffer, the people would kill him, and God would raise him up on the third day. His response to God’s love is to offer his life as a sacrifice for the salvation of the world. He lets God’s will be done over his will. At the end of our Gospel’s passage, Jesus teaches his disciples that their lives must follow the same pattern. This means, we too are called to follow the same pattern. To respond to the love of God, we need to let the will of God be done in us, even if it takes us to carry our crosses.  

When Peter hears Jesus predicting his own death, he tries to stop Jesus from accepting the cross. “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” (v. 22). Peter means, “No such thing shall ever happen to us either.” Here Peter, on behalf of the Apostles, fails to respond to the love of God by offering his life. In the verses that immediately precede our Gospel passage (last Sunday’s Gospel), it is he who confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God (see v. 16). He thinks to follow a triumphant and miracle-working Messiah, but Jesus defines himself as a Suffering Messiah. Jesus teaches them and all of us that to respond to God’s love is to accept his will even if it takes us to carry our crosses. Are we ready to follow a suffering Messiah? Let us learn from the experience of the prophet Jeremiah in our first reading’s story.

In our first reading, Jeremiah laments to God. The mission God assigned him was painful. The people rejected, mocked, and hated him continually because he preached the Word of God to them. Looking back, Jeremiah was convinced that God duped or tricked him into taking up his thankless task. He then decided not to prophesy anymore. “I say I will not mention him, I will no longer speak in his name.” (Jeremiah 20: 9). However, he realizes that the more he wants to quit, the more the Word of God burns in his heart like fire. He grows weary of holding back, so, he cannot abandon God’s mission (see v. 9b). You and I maybe feel the same as Jeremiah. Sometimes we feel like giving up our faith and the good work that we do when people mock, discourage, or hate us. Let us learn from Jeremiah. The Word of God continues to burn in our hearts like a fire. We need to be attentive to what God wants us to do and do it.

In the second part of our Gospel, Jesus reveals to us what we need to do when we feel like giving up our faith and the good works due to the trials that we face. He says, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (V. 24). There are three action verbs in this statement: To deny ourselves, to take up our crosses, and to follow Jesus. First, to deny ourselves means that we must consider Jesus and his mission (Masses, Church activities, and our spiritual lives) the priority of all that we do. This is what Saint Paul means, in our second reading, when he urges us to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, our spiritual worship (see Romans 12: 1). Second, the crosses that we are called to take up could be the mockeries of people, their discouragements, and all sufferings that we endure as Christians. Third, to follow Jesus means to follow, not our will, but his will. This is what Saint Paul says in our second reading when he calls us not to conform ourselves to this age, but we should be transformed by the renewal of our minds. He asks us to discern what is the will of God, what is good, and what is pleasing and perfect (see Romans 12: 2). Let us continue to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus.

The liturgy of this Mass exhorts us to persevere and continue to follow Jesus amid painful experiences that we may face. This is the way that we, Christians, respond to the love of God. Amen.

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD

 

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