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Homily for the Twenty-second Sunday, year A

01 Sep 2017, by Rev. Fr. Joel Okojie OSA in Sermons

In my homily a week ago, I did mention how the devil put a thought in Peter and how Jesus rebuked the satanic thought immediately. That incident happened when he began to make it clear to his disciples that he would suffer and die.

Our gospel passage this morning is a continuation of what we read a week ago; it gives the details of how Peter could not understand how the good and powerful Son of God would suffer and die. This is the person the whole world waited for, the messiah who was to come into the world, and here he is talking about his suffering and death in the hands of the elders and the chief priests and scribes. It was unacceptable for Peter, so he took Jesus aside and started to remonstrate with him. Heaven preserves you, Lord, he said. This must not happen to you. In other words, you are the Son of God, the messiah, you cannot suffer, and you cannot die. But Jesus rebuked that thought as satanic immediately because suffering is not always evil.

We understand that Peter was only human; he was not the first to understand the theology of suffering. In our first reading this morning, Jeremiah tells us how he suffered, how he became a laughing-stock and everybody’s butt. He was insulted, abandoned by his friends, thrown into prison for being obedient to God. In frustration, he planned to abandon the word of God; he said The word of the Lord has meant for me insult, derision all day long. I used to say; I will not think about him; I will not speak in his name anymore. At a point in his ministry, Jeremiah decided to abandon God and his calling due to suffering and insults; doing God’s work brought him great pains and humiliation, but he did not give up. He did not give up because he said, There seemed to be a fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones. The effort to restrain it wearied me; I could not bear it.

Jeremiah could not resist doing the work of God even though it brought him great pains; he had to do it in obedience and love for God just as Jesus accepted suffering and death in obedience and love. He was not forced, he said, No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have the power to lay it down, and I have the power to take it up again; this charge I have received from my Father (Jn. 10:18).

Peter could not understand why Jesus had to suffer, but Jesus was actually showing us the way to glory. If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, he said to let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it, but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it. Pains and sufferings are not what anybody should pray for, I do not pray for them, and Jesus himself did not pray for them. He begged the Father to take the cup of suffering from him, but he accepted to willingly and joyfully drink the cup if it is the Father’s will (Lk. 22:42).

Jeremiah did not ask for suffering, but he willingly accepted it in love. Even Peter, who tried to stop Jesus from going to the cross, later accepted suffering and death for the sake of Christ with all pleasure. It is unchristian, therefore, to think that anyone in Christ will never suffer, no. Jesus never promised that; he never promised a no-cross Christianity. To be a true Christian is to be prepared for battles, for anointing attracts persecution. We must be conscious that we live in the world but not of the world so that the world will fight us. The attacks and the humiliations we sometimes face do not suggest divine weakness or absence, but God’s truthfulness and faithfulness. God is truthful; he did not and is not deceiving anyone into following him, he never promised a smooth journey. He rather said that there would be tribulations, many will fall away, betray and hate each other, wickedness will multiply, there will be fake prophecies and teachings, but he who endures to the end will be saved (Mt. 24:9-13). This is not a call to accept suffering unnecessarily; Christianity is not foolishness. But if we have to go through it for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ, so be it.

Do not begin to question the reality and power of God because of your experience in life; God exists, he knows everything, and he is powerful. Do not let the devil take advantage of your situation to mislead you into thinking that there is no power in your Church or that God is not strong enough to help you. Do not give up on the word of God; it is alive and active. God’s word is true; there is so much wickedness in the world, betrayal, fake prophesies and teachings, miracle centers, and many other satanic strategies. Do not be deceived; hold on, your redeemer lives.