Discipleship demands honesty. Though organized religions often imply it's okay to fudge a little when it comes to expressing one's true relationship with God, our sacred authors consistently encourage us to be genuine. Sunday's first and third readings present two classic examples of such truthfulness: Jeremiah and Peter.
I always advise the clinically depressed to avoid chapter 20 of Jeremiah. Not only does it contain the last of the prophet's famous "confessions," but also it presents some of the most heart-wrenching, dispiriting reflections anyone has ever shared about his or her relationship with God.
Sunday's passage (Jer 20:7-9) begins with Jeremiah accusing Yahweh of initially tricking him into the relationship. But the Hebrew word innocuously translated here as "duped" technically conveys something much stronger than duped. Its original, root meaning is "raped," the kind of rape our parents feared when they warned us never to get into a stranger's car. Jeremiah is accusing Yahweh of precisely that kind of abusive treatment!
Stuck with God
And he can't get out of the relationship. It's worse than belonging to the Mafia. "I tell myself," he says, "I will not mention Him; I will speak in His name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it." Jeremiah is trapped in a relationship which brings nothing but "derision and reproach all the day."
Paul's well-known admonition in the second reading (Rom 12:1-2) probably would prompt a string of sarcastic remarks from Jeremiah. The prophet certainly offered his body "as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God." He had been "transformed" in order to "discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect."
But what happened when he did these things? He already told us the horrible consequences in our first reading.
Following God is "tricky." We hear in the Gospel (Mt 116:21-27) that we follow someone who leads us down roads we'd rather not travel. Here, Jesus takes His disciples by surprise when, after Peter's great confession of faith, He announces that "He must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised."
Peter and Satan
Peter, the great rock of faith, has an immediate reaction: "God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you."
Jesus' response is just as immediate: "Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do." (We must remember that originally "Satan" wasn't the devil's name. It was a word used to describe an obstacle in someone's path, something which could turn people away from their intended goal.)
Then Jesus quickly explains how His disciples are to join in His suffering, death and resurrection. "Those who wish to come after me must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me. Those who wish to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for my sake will find it."
He insists His followers change their value system: that they look at loss as gain and gain as loss. In the first and second readings, Peter and Jeremiah reject such a psychological turnabout. They reject both the reality and the prospect of pain and suffering, especially when it comes as a result of giving themselves over to God.
Yet, as far as we can tell, both Jeremiah and Peter continued to be faithful followers of God until the day they died. They simply were honest about their feelings. Their non-hypocritical attitude seems to be one of the reasons God chose them for ministry. God never wants anyone to be a disciple who can't be honest about the cost of discipleship.