FROM A READING FOR AUG. 28, 22ND SUNDAY OF THE YEAR 'Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things.' - Matthew 16:23
There's a good reason the "crux gemmata" (jeweled cross) became the symbol for early Christian communities. This one object perfectly mirrored their experience of dying and rising with Jesus.
The outline of the cross conveyed suffering and death; the jewels showed the resurrection and life such suffering and death brought to them.
My advice for this Sunday is to forget the jewels: Our three sacred authors are zeroing in on the cross.
Whenever I teach Jeremiah 20, I always insist that anyone who's clinically depressed leave the room. The prophet's words could push him or her over the brink.
Translators face a dilemma with the first line of Sunday's passage (Jer 20:7-9). Some say Yahweh "duped" Jeremiah; others say He "tricked" or deluded" him. But in other contexts, the Hebrew word refers to rape - hardly a pious concept, especially when it refers to Yahweh's actions in the life of a prophet.
Yet that seems to be exactly how Jeremiah looks at the experience of Yahweh entering his life. Most people were warned by parents about getting into cars with strangers; Jeremiah's saying that he got into Yahweh's car.
"You were too strong for me, you triumphed!" Things were never the same after Jeremiah agreed to be Yahweh's prophet. "The word of Yahweh has brought me derision and reproach all the day."
Even worse, he discovers that trying to give up prophesying is akin to retiring from the mafia: "I say to myself, 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."
By the end of the chapter Jeremiah demands to know why someone didn't kill him the second he was born.
Peter senses that some of what Jeremiah experienced will also be part of his life if he commits to following Jesus. It only takes a mention of Jesus' suffering in Sunday's Gospel (Matthew 16:21-27) for Peter to rebuke Him: "God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you!"
Actually, he's saying, "No such thing should ever happen to me!"
In his command, "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus seems to be employing Satan in its original Hebrew meaning: an obstacle in one's path. The belief that one can be a follower of Jesus without enduring Jesus' suffering is the obstacle to carrying out Jesus' ministry.
Pain and gain
In Jesus' plan to change the world, one must be willing to lose one's life to eventually save one's life. "No pain, no gain!" makes sense in such a plan.
But Christian pain doesn't consist in actually being nailed to a cross, self-flagellation or wearing a hair shirt, but in giving ourselves generously to others, as the historical Jesus did.
As painful as it is, we're expected to live our lives as God does, not as other human beings do.
Paul conveys the same concept (Romans 12:1-2): "Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect."
If we're serious about being disciples of God, we often identify with Jeremiah. We might couch our fears and frustrations in different words, but down deep, we're glad Jeremiah said what he said. It saves us from getting into a lot of trouble for saying it.