Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Cost of Discipleship: 22nd Sunday of OT

It's been a tough week for Michael and I at our respective Universities, trying to keep up with the start of classes and a press of academic and administrative duties.  So this week I'm posting an unaltered re-run of a commentary on the Readings from three years ago:

If last Sunday’s Readings were a soft-ball pitch, a nice high arc to knock out of the park, this Sunday’s Readings are a wicked curve ball for the Catholic preacher.  Nonetheless, while these readings aren’t the “feel good” homiletical experience of last week’s, the truths are just as important and just as “Catholic.”

We begin with a troublesome passage from the prophet Jeremiah:

Reading 1: Jeremiah 20:7-9
You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped (Heb. patah);
you were too strong for me, and you triumphed.
All the day I am an object of laughter;
everyone mocks me.

Whenever I speak, I must cry out,
violence and outrage is my message;
the word of the LORD has brought me
derision and reproach all the day.

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.

What does the prophet mean that the Lord “duped” him?  Does the Lord really deceive people?  Is the Lord unkind and manipulative even with his own servants?

The interpretation of what the prophet is saying here depends a great deal on how one translates the Hebrew word patah, which has a wide range of meanings, including “to deceive,” “to entice,” and “to seduce.”

Actually, there is a long Christian tradition which favors the sense “seduce.”  The Hebrew verb patah often does carry this connotation: Exod 22:16; Judg 14:15; 16:15; Hos 2:14; Job 31:9.  The Latin Vulgate renders Jer 20:7 this way: seduxisti me Domine et seductus sum.  In the Church’s spiritual tradition, this verse has often been cited to express the experience of the believer or the mystic who finds him- or herself overcome with passion for God, even despite himself and contrary to his own apparent self-interest.  Those who have entered the contemplative life, for example, have spoken of themselves as “seduced” by the beauty of the Lord, such that they leave the life of the secular world to devote themselves to contemplation.  This past week I had a chance to watch “Into Great Silence,” a fascinating film about the life of Carthusian monks in the Grande Chartreuse, the Carthusian motherhouse in France.  This passage from Jeremiah was frequently shown on the screen to highlight the motif of the interior passion of the monks for God.

Nonetheless, what is Jeremiah saying ?  Does God really “deceive,” “entice,” “seduce” people?

Jeremiah does not speak as a systematic theologian, much less as a moral philosopher.

He speaks as a poet and a mystic, giving voice to his experiences in bold and even hyperbolic language.

Clearly he is passionate for LORD, the covenant God of Israel.  Yet his passion for the LORD leads to conflict with the world, with his nation, his city, his people.  The ways of the LORD are at odds with the ways of everyone around him, and the result is conflict and suffering.  The prophet would like to avoid this conflict, but cannot, because his passion for the LORD is to great to be suppressed: “it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.”  St. John of the Cross refers to several similar passages of Jeremiah (although not today’s reading specifically) in his masterful treatment of the interior suffering involved in the pursuit of God’s presence, The Dark Night of the Soul.

In the context of this Sunday’s Mass, the Church intends us to see Jeremiah’s words in a messianic sense.  Jeremiah was a type, image, and forerunner of the Messiah.  Jeremiah’s experiences strikingly prefigured the experiences of Jesus.  Both preached against Jerusalem and the Temple (Jer 7 & 11); both were persecuted by the High Priests (Jer 20:1-6); both were tried and imprisoned by a sympathetic but weak-willed civil magistrate (Jer 38:14-28); both descended into the pit and were raised up again (Jer 38:1-13).  In many ways, Jeremiah was God’s suffering servant; in fact, the argument has been made more than once that Isaiah was describing Jeremiah in his Suffering Servant Songs—most recently by Rabbi Mordecai Schreiber.  It is not accidental that in last weeks readings, the disciples tell Jesus that many think he, Jesus, is the prophet Jeremiah.

Like Jeremiah, Jesus is impassioned for the LORD, and his passion will lead to his Passion, as we seen in the Gospel Reading.

The Responsorial Psalm, David speaks of the pain he experiences because he desires God and the experience of God’s presence, and yet currently does not enjoy that experience.  The subtitle of the Psalm in the Hebrew text is “A psalm of David.  When he was in the desert of Judah.”  This may indicate that the psalm is meant to be understood as expressing David’s emotions while he was persecuted by Saul

Responsorial Psalm Ps 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
R. (2b) My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
O God, you are my God whom I seek;
for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts
like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.
R. My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
Thus have I gazed toward you in the sanctuary
to see your power and your glory,
For your kindness is a greater good than life;
my lips shall glorify you.
R. My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
Thus will I bless you while I live;
lifting up my hands, I will call upon your name.
As with the riches of a banquet shall my soul be satisfied,
and with exultant lips my mouth shall praise you.
R. My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
You are my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I shout for joy.
My soul clings fast to you;
your right hand upholds me.
R. My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.

We immediately recognize similarities between this psalm and the famous Psalm 42: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.”  Ultimately this is not about physical thirst but about desire for God’s Spirit: “Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst” (John 4:14).  The Spirit is communicated through the waters of Baptism but also in the Body and Blood of the Eucharist: “As with the riches of a banquet shall my soul be satisfied.”  Unlike the Jeremiah reading, this Psalm expresses hope.  The suffering of the one who loves the Lord is temporary.  There will be joy, satisfaction, and embrace.  In the context of Mass, this Psalm serves to whet our appetite for the nuptial banquet we are about to receive.

The Second Reading follows our lectio continua of Romans and therefore was not chosen specifically to correspond with the themes of the First Reading and Gospel.  Nonetheless, in God’s providence, there are important connections:

Reading 2 Rom 12:1-2
I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God,
to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice,
holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.
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.

St. Paul employs priestly terminology here in his exhortation “to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice.”  His words reflect the belief that in the Church, every believer has come to share in Christ’s priesthood.  We have become the priestly people that God intended for Israel at Sinai, before God’s plans were derailed by the idolatry of the Golden Calf (see Exod 19:5-6; 1 Peter 2:9).  We are not necessarily ministerial priests whose vocation is specifically to preside at the liturgy.  Nonetheless, we are true priests, and our sacrifice, like Jesus’, is our very lives, our very selves (our “bodies” in St. Paul’s terminology).  St. Paul’s urging to give our very lives coincides nicely with Our Lord’s exhortation in the Gospel Reading:

Gospel Mt 16:21-27
Jesus began to show his disciples
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.
Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him,
"God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you."
He turned and said to Peter,
"Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me.
You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."

Then Jesus said to his disciples,
"Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world
and forfeit his life"
Or what can one give in exchange for his life?
For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father's glory,
and then he will repay all according to his conduct."

The contrast between the glorious things spoken to Peter in last Sunday’s Gospel and the sharp rebuke of Peter in this Gospel could hardly be more pronounced.  It is quite intentional on the part of the evangelist, who wants us to observe, almost simultaneously, the divine promises given to Peter and Peter’s human weaknesses.

The contrast between divine guidance and human weakness is the theme of the history of the Papacy.  Catholics hold that the Pope is infallible in his teaching, not impeccable in his behavior.  The distinction is often lost on non-Catholics, who understand us to believe that the Pope is sinless.  Obviously, the Popes have not been sinless, and a few well-chosen historical examples quickly demonstrate the fact.

But we do not hold that the Pope is sinless.  Nor that he always teaches in the best way, or says exactly the right thing at the right time.  Papal infallibility is much weaker than some understand it.  It simply the belief that the Pope is protected from error in his solemn or official teaching.

In last Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus did not say to Peter: “You will never again sin.”  He said: “What you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; what you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”  We mentioned that “bind and loose” were terms referring to the authority to judge halakhah, the application of divine law to real life circumstances.  The sphere of halakhah is roughly what we Catholics call “faith and morals.”  In the Greek of this passage, Jesus uses future perfect formation.  Literally, “What you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven; what you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven.”  In other words, it’s not so much that Peter’s decisions change heavenly policy, it is that the policy of heaven will be reflected in Peter’s teachings.

In today’s passage, Peter is not making a decision about halakhah for God’s people.  In fact, the Spirit has not even been poured out yet, and Peter has not formally assumed his role as royal steward, even as Jesus has not yet ascended to the right hand of the Father (see John 20:17; Acts 2:33).  Peter gives an emotional reaction to a hard teaching of Jesus, and Jesus rebukes him sharply.  Peter is wrong.  Suffering and death will happen to Jesus.  In fact, almost identical suffering and death is going to happen to Peter himself (John 21:18).  All followers of Christ must be ready to follow Christ to death, including and especially the successor of Peter.  In fact, Peter’s many, perhaps most, of Pete’s early successors shared in martyrdom.

This Gospel Reading includes one of the most succinct and challenging formulations of the “Good News” uttered by Jesus during his earthly ministry:

Then Jesus said to his disciples,
"Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

This is the same Good News that Jesus has been preaching since the beginning of Matthew, where he blessed the poor, the hungry and thirsty, the meek, the persecuted at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount.  The poor of the beatitudes are those who have given up their own lives and taken up the cross of Christ.  The call of Christ is so in conflict with the “American Dream” lifestyle most of us in the pews are trying to live.  Maybe the inevitable economic collapse the experts keep predicting will actually help us rediscover what is important in life and what the Gospel is actually about.


heidi said...

Thank you Dr. Bergsma for taking the time to post this week. It is a rich essay with a lot to contemplate.

The St. Peter rebuke reminds me of Pope Benedict saying the entire history of the papacy is summed up in that rebuke.


Susan Moore said...

Professor Bergsma,
Three years ago you wrote that? For some reason I felt compelled to looked back to see what I had written three years ago, to my surprise I found the following that I had written to my Protestant pastor (the cessationistic one) in response to a sermon he had just given about being angry at God:
Part 1 of 6.
“Tough sermon. I spent a chunk of last night remembering the last time I was angry at Jesus.
It was about mid-May thru September of 2008. I had been in a car accident about 6 months earlier, in Nov. 2007. I was sitting in my truck, on a street in town in the daylight, with my blinker on to make a left turn, and someone rear-ended me going 60mph. My brain got rattled. The effect of that rattling knocked out my short-term memory, about 90% of my nouns and ability to speak, the ability to distinguish left from right, and the ability to sequence anything (such as how to make a sandwich, order my words into a coherent spoken sentence, and add a column of numbers to balance my checkbook). For the second time in my life I was told I would never be a nurse again. Due to further damage to my shoulders and spine, I was told that I would not be able to ride a horse for at least a year, and that I should consider giving that up for good.
None of that made me angry, just resolved.

Susan Moore said...

Part 2 of 6.
I had been working in a cardiac ICU. My advanced cardiac life support certification was due to be renewed, so I attended a class to do so; but the names of the emergency medications were all nouns, to follow the algorithms to treat any particular heart dysrhythmia required sequencing, to remember the scenarios and what treatments had already been given required short-term memory. I saw the writing on the wall, and went home.
None of that made me angry, just more resolved.
I approached my neurologist and presented my case: I would return to psychiatric nursing. He relented by saying that at least I would not kill someone, just make them more psychotic.
Job interviews were a nightmare. Enough said about that.
Based on my credentials alone, one manager hired me. I started working [in an emergency psychiatry room] mid-May of 2008. I worked with another R.N., and an aide. On any given night, we'd have about 20 patients. My job was to care for and restrain the violent male ones.
THAT made me angry.

Susan Moore said...

Part 3 of 6.
In the all-day prayer in 2001 I had asked Jesus if I was through with abusive men in my life, and he had said, "Yea, you're done with that." Well, obviously he had made a mistake by putting me in that job. I demanded He "beam me up," and get me out of there. I refused to listen to Him until He got me out of that "God-forsaken" place. I finally told Him to "talk to the hand," and I walked away. I told Him, in no-uncertain terms, that I was going to speak to His Father. And in my mind, I did.
I told Him His son had made a mistake, what the mistake was, and that I was very angry. I told Him that I expected His son to get me out of there, and He was refusing to do so. I told Him about the promise His son had made to me in 2001. I was inconsolable, and simply kept repeating myself. He listened.

Susan Moore said...

Part 4 of 6.
Over time, as He was able to get words in, the subject became one of trust. We began talking about my difficulty trusting people, including His son, and how that distrustfulness effected my life. I began to see His points, but held on to my belief that He had abandoned that hospital. Without giving me details, He insisted that that was not so. I remember standing there with my arms crossed, wondering how it was possible that He could not see the truth in what I was saying.
So, I challenged Him, I said, "Ok, if you are there, then I want to meet one new born-again Christian a day." He said, "You're on! I'll put them there, but you have to find them."
I guess that was the beginning of my doing spiritual assessments. I've never been so driven. I would prove my point if that was the last thing I did.
You know what? Yea, I found one every day; a lady washing her hands in the bathroom, a patient on a stretcher in the elevator, a technician drawing blood, a security officer helping to restrain a patient... I began joyfully telling that person that they were "it" that day. I signed up for overtime. I stopped looking. I knew He was there.
The relationship between Jesus and I was reconciled. And in spite of even all of that, a month later, He healed me.

Susan Moore said...

Part 5 of 6.
After I lifted my wobbly head off of the pillow, and crawled to the bathroom, and dumped the first medication down the toilet, I went to work.
I remember being in my locked unit, and standing in the hallway in front of our open waiting room door. I was looking down the hall and watching a man being wheeled into the seclusion room. I had just given him shots to sedate him, and had helped restrain him to the stretcher. There was still a lot of commotion going on in that area, but I did not hear any of it. It seemed far away. What was overwhelming me were the other people, there in front of me in the waiting room; where did they come from? I had gotten report on them every night, but that night, for the first time, they actually existed. And in them I saw my own life:

Susan Moore said...

Part 6 of 6.
Their names changed every night, but their pain never did; the girl holding up her wrist that was bleeding from a self-inflicted cut, a man vomiting from a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit, a young adult writhing in withdrawal from abusing prescription medication, a middle-aged man whispering to the voices his mind was playing out for him to hear, a bruised woman with torn clothing holding her head in her hands and crying -the silence from that room was deafening.
Yet little did I know that only hours earlier Jesus had healed me of my own mental illness, or that I would not be able to speak in coherent sentences for another six months.

Susan Moore said...

Thanks for listening, Professor Bergsma.
God bless you.

Unknown said...

Are you *currently* being sent into Hell forever ... automatically excommunicated (outside) of God’s Catholic Church ?

Answer: Yes you are ... you can reverse it ... please continue.

Council of Florence, Session 8, 22 Nov 1439 -- infallible Source of Dogma >
"Whoever wills to be saved, before all things it is necessary that he holds the Catholic faith. Unless a person keeps this faith whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish eternally."

You must believe the Catholic Dogma to be in the Church ... Dogma you have *never* seen.

Site > ... infallible Dogma throughout.

The Catholic Faith *is not* Bible interpretation ... it is the Catholic infallible Sources of Dogma. The Catholic Church didn’t even define the Bible’s New Testament Canon until 397 A.D. at the Council of Carthage.

- - - -

Can a group which enforces the opposite, the opposite, and the opposite of the Catholic unchangeable Dogma be the Catholic Church?

No, it cannot possibly be the Catholic Church ... and promotion of the opposite of the Catholic Dogma is exactly what the vatican-2 heretic cult does ... and has been doing since it’s founding on 8 December 1965 at the Vatican.

The vatican-2 heresy does not have the Office of the Papacy ... only the Catholic Church has the Papacy.

The Dogma cannot “change” or be “reversed” ... God does not “change”.

The founding documents of the vatican-2 heretic cult … the “vatican-2 council” documents … have well over 200 heresies *against* prior defined unchangeable Dogma. Every (apparent) bishop at the “council” approved the mountain of heresy, which caused their automatic excommunication, see Section 13.2 of the below site.

- - - -

Section 12 > Anti-Christ vatican-2 heresies (50 listed) ... followed by many Catholic corrections.

Sections 13 and 13.1 > Photographic *proof* of heresy at the Vatican.

Because of … the Catholic Dogma on automatic excommunication for heresy or for physical participation in a heretic cult (such as the v-2 cult) …

… we were all placed, body and soul, *outside* of Christianity (the Catholic Church) on 8 December 1965 … the close date of the “council”.

Section 13.2 > Catholic Dogma on automatic excommunication for heresy or participating in a heretic cult such as ... vatican-2, lutheran, methodist, evangelical, etc.

Section 107 > St. Athanasius (died 373 A.D.) ... “Even if the Church were reduced to a handful ...” - - during the “arian” heresy ... we are there again, but worse.

Section 13.3 > Matt 16:18, Gates of Hell scripture ... is *not* about the Office of the Papacy ... four Dogmatic Councils defined it ... that heresy will not cause the Dogma to disappear.

Section 13.4 > The vatican-2 heretic cult does not have the Office of the Papacy only the Catholic Church has the Papacy.

Section 13.6 > The Catholic Dogma on Jurisdiction and Automatic Excommunication for heresy define that ... God has allowed Catholic Jurisdiction ... for Mass and Confession to disappear from the world. There is no such thing as Catholic Mass outside of the Catholic Church.

Non-Catholic heresies such as “vatican-2”, “sspx”, “sspv”, “cmri”, etc. ... do not have Catholic Mass.

Section 19.1 > Dogma on Abjuration for *re-entering* Christianity (the Catholic Church) … after being automatically excommunicated. A Formal Abjuration is provided here also.

Section 10.2 > Returning to a state of grace, in places and times when Confession is not available, like now.

- - - -

Second Council of Constantinople, 553 A.D. -- infallible Source of Dogma >
"The heretic, even though he has not been condemned formally by any individual, in reality brings anathema on himself, having cut himself off from the way of truth by his heresy."

Blessed John Eudes, died 1680 >
“The greatest evil existing today is heresy, an infernal rage which hurls countless souls into eternal damnation.”

Everything you must know, believe, and do to get to Heaven is on > >

Our Lady of Conquest
Pray for us

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Anonymous said...

With all do respect to John Bergsma and all the others that read the groups Sunday reflections, please refrain from deviating from the scripture reading and the subject therein. And please if you wish to have a discussion about personal life and history please use some other forum. If there is questions or insight that should be shared in an effort for deeper understanding of the mysteries of Gods Kingdom please do so. But promoting some fringe group VII heresy or revelation education or rambling on about a personal anecdote is not helpful nor insightful to the promotion of this blog and the education of those who read. Do your own Blogs and have welcomed visitors come listen and share on your terms.
Thank you Dr Bergsma.