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Jeremiah, Suffering, and Bearing Your Cross

by Brant Pitre January 01, 2021 0 Comments



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Transcript:

Now with that in mind then, what does the Old Testament reading for today have to do with this?  It is kind of an interesting selection here.  The Church here has chosen a very famous passage from the book of the prophet Jeremiah, Jeremiah 20:7-9, which describes the suffering of Jeremiah.  So again, the theme of suffering is ready at hand, it is at the center here.  And in this context, what Jeremiah is doing is basically lamenting his vocation.  So if you know anything about the book of Jeremiah, if you know anything about the prophet Jeremiah, you'll know that Jeremiah is not, shall we say, the happy prophet of the Old Testament.  He is called by God at a time of great sinfulness, or great iniquity, and basically on the brink of the destruction of Jerusalem, and his job, he gets the wonderful job of having to tell the people of Jerusalem that they are wicked, sinful, and that God is going to allow Jerusalem to be destroyed and the temple is going down.  And as you might imagine, the people of Jerusalem didn’t exactly like that message, and so they persecuted Jeremiah, they rejected Jeremiah.  Some of the leaders even tried to kill Jeremiah.  They imprisoned him.  And so in the midst of all that suffering that was part of his vocation as a prophet, Jeremiah makes a lament to God and this is what he says:

O LORD, thou hast deceived me,

and I was deceived;

thou art stronger than I,

and thou hast prevailed.

I have become a laughingstock all the day;

every one mocks me.

 

For whenever I speak, I cry out,

I shout, "Violence and destruction!"

For the word of the LORD has become for me

a reproach and derision all day long.

 

If I say, "I will not mention him,

or speak any more in his name,"

there is in my heart as it were a burning fire

shut up in my bones,

and I am weary with holding it in,

and I cannot.

So what's going on there?  Jeremiah is basically feeling like he's been duped by God, because he was called to be a prophet and give the word to the people and what has it won for him?  Nothing except derision, mockery, persecution and suffering.  In other words, Jeremiah, as a prophet, has had to take up the cross.  He has had to willingly accept the suffering that comes with his prophetic vocation in order to bring the word of God to the people of Israel.  And the mystery of his prophetic vocation, of that discipleship, is that although he would like to not speak the word of God, he can't help himself.  He said “it is like a fire shut up in my bones, and I cannot help but speak.”  He cannot help but proclaim, even though all it brings him is suffering and weariness and rejection.  So Jeremiah then, in that sense, is a kind of type of Christ.  He points forward to Jesus himself, who is going to go to the city of Jerusalem, prophesy its destruction, and eventually meet his death at the hands of the leaders of the city who will reject him.  In fact, if you remember from one of the earlier Sundays, Matthew 16, when Jesus asked Peter and the disciples “who do people say the Son of man is?”  It said “some say Jeremiah,” and although that’s wrong, there's a partial truth there, because Jesus is like a new Jeremiah.  He too has to go through the crucible of suffering in order to bring the word of God to the people of Jerusalem.

And so that is the link, that is the key for understanding the Responsorial Psalm as well, which is a song about the soul thirsting for God, longing to be united with God, longing to be with the Lord.  Just like Jeremiah, in the context of his suffering, reaches out to God as his last end, and so too as Jesus is trying to teach the apostles not to give up their soul in order to try to save their life or to chase after the things of this world, to accept through the cross, to enter the glory of the resurrection.

In closing then, I would just like to give a couple reflections from the living tradition of the Church.  There are two great quotes about this passage in Matthew 16 that I have found very helpful.  Because let's face it, the cross is a scandal.  This is one of those aspects of Christianity that just isn't very attractive.  Contrast it with the health and wealth gospel you sometimes hear evangelists on the television talk about.  You know, you believe in Jesus you are going to be blessed with money and riches and health and wealth.  And then you open the Gospels and what does Jesus say?  You be my disciple and you are going to be blessed with the cross.  Those two things are at odds with one another.  So it can be hard though when you look at the Gospel and if you look at Jesus’ statement here.  There are so many forms of suffering.  Each of us has our own crosses in our lives that often seem impossible to bear.  How can Jesus ask us to accept them?  What is he really calling us to as disciples?  And in this, I would take wisdom from two Saints of the Church, two canonized saints.  One is St. Augustine, and the other is St. Josemaria Escriva, a modern saint that lived in the 20th century.  This is what they had to say about this passage in the Gospel of Matthew.  In one of his sermons, St. Augustine wrote this about the cross and love, he says:

Our Lord’s command seems hard and heavy, that anyone who wants to follow him must renounce himself. But no command is hard and heavy when it comes from one who helps to carry it out. That other saying of his is true: “My yoke is easy and my burden light.”  Whatever is hard in his commands is made easy by love.

You hear almost a little hint in this, or a little foreshadowing, of St Thérèse of Lisieux, the little way of love.  She lived the gospel in her own life by making small sacrifices with great love.  That was her way of embracing the cross, to willingly choose to sacrifice little things in the daily things of life in order to acquire the habit of taking up the cross and uniting it to the love of Jesus, learning how to love through sacrifice.  And what Augustine is basically saying here is that although the command seems hard, when it is animated by love it actually becomes easy, because the grace of Christ enables us to willingly choose the cross for love of God and for love of neighbor.  If you think about this, even on the human level, people who are in love will do crazy things.  They will go to amazing lengths in order to express their love for one another.  They will suffer and they will even die in order to express their love just for another human being at the natural level.  Well that is what Christ is calling us to as well as in his call to discipleship.  And St. Josemaria Escriva, in one of his meditations, The Way of the Cross, actually pointed this out, he said that one of the keys to being a Christian disciple is not just to accept suffering or to take up the cross, but to do it willingly and to do it with joy and to do it with love.  I love these lines, this is what St. Josemaria wrote:

“If anyone would follow me…” Little friend, we are sad, living the Passion of our Lord Jesus. See how lovingly he embraces the cross. Learn from him. Jesus carries the cross for you: You… carry it for Jesus. But don’t drag the cross… Carry it squarely on your shoulders, because your cross, if you carry it so, will not just be any cross… It will be the holy cross. Don’t carry your cross with resignation: resignation is not a generous word.  Love the cross. When you really love it, your cross will be, a Cross without a cross. And surely, you will find Mary on the way, just as Jesus did.

That is a beautiful reflection there on the way of the cross and the rosary and the mystery of carrying the cross.  So what St. Josemaria Escriva is basically saying there is that the only way we can find joy in the paradox of carrying the crosses of our lives, is not to carry them with resignation — like to drag the cross — but to learn to love the cross, and through loving the cross we will transform all the sufferings of this life into love, and that will transform them into a cross without a cross.



Brant Pitre
Brant Pitre

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