“Whoever wishes to come after me, must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me (Matthew 16:24).” Today, we see that the cross which is at the center of the Christian religion, is the reality of life. No matter how much efforts people make, to run away from it, it proves to be inescapable reality. Every human being created into this life, experiences changes in his or her life. We all experience, high points of human existence, and low points as well; we have friends and enemies; we all experience likes and dislikes; we all experience supports and antagonisms, contradictions and oppositions; we all experience and feel pains, sufferings, sickness, weakness and eventually death at the end.
In our first reading today, the prophet Jeremiah addressing God, says: “you duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped; you were too strong for me, and you triumphed.” There were constant threats in the prophet’s life. They couldbe loneliness, contempt and ridicule, which were hard for him to endure. He had no respite from the strong opposition rising all around him. To understand a little of what Jeremiah was going through, we situate him during the years that precede the capture and the destruction of the city of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. There was complete break-down in the society, in which the religious situation was even worst. The people were deceived by their spiritual leaders, and they put blind trust in the temple, in sacrifices, and rituals without any corresponding interior conversion of the heart, and respect for the law of God. Their religion was empty, false and deceptive.
It was within this context that God calls Jeremiah and sends him to censure the people for their impiety, and to threaten the imminent destruction of their city, if there is no immediate conversion to God. In his mission, his preaching not only fell on deaf ears, but also aroused violent persecutions against him. Not only did the king and the religious leaders show unwillingness to mend their ways, even the ordinary people took offence at the words of Jeremiah and demanded his execution.
In this situation, the prophet, Jeremiah was discouraged. On his part, there was evident waning of enthusiasm in the exercise of his vocation as prophet. Initially, he was enthusiastic, but little by little, it began to dwindle, his pain and suffering became unceasing. As a result, his internal wound became incurable to the point of refusing consolation and healing. His recurring temptation was to give up speaking in God’s name. Yet the life of God’s zeal, burning in the secret places of his heart, was irresistible and inextinguishable.
In this way, in the midst of strong contradictions, he keeps faith in God’s loyalty. This was the proof of the prophet’s intimate relationship with the Lord. In such a relationship, he took his problems and his pains to God. In such a relationship, he reached the brink of despair as he foresaw both Israel’s and Jerusalem’s destiny.
The experiences of Jeremiah and many other prophets are repeated in the case of all God’s chosen ones, who are loved by God, and who accept to carry out some special missions in their lives. They will also encounter sufferings and persecutions as they are inevitable.
All the Old Testament Scriptures, the laws and the prophets are fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The characteristics and attributes of the Old Testament prophets are continued in Jesus Christ and through him passed on, into his disciples and would be disciples. This is the plan of God. That is why, today, Jesus is very hard in correcting Peter who is not just making a minor mistake, but moving in the opposite direction to the plan of God. Jesus goes on to re-iterate the importance of the cross as a means to glory. He tells us that whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for his sake will find it. Truly, there is nothing we can get in exchange for our lives, not even the whole world. The greatest gift we have been given by God, is the gift of our discipleship, which entails following Jesus Christ in his life, death and resurrection. St. Paul tells us today to revere this life of discipleship. The only way we can cherish it is to make the sacrifice of our body and mind in union with Our Lord, Jesus Christ. We should not conform ourselves to this age, but we must be transformed by the renewal of our mind, so that we may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.
May God give us the Spirit and grace to have the mind of Christ, and conform into his image and likeness, now and forever. Amen