|22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time||
August 29, 1999
Unfortunately, that restaurant experience reflects the lifestyle of too many people in our society. We are a nation of consumers who indulge in excessive possessions, commitments, goals, and desires. Consider this-people move from starter homes to bigger ones that have more closets and more floor space. Does that solve their problem of the lack of storage? Maybe for the first year, but soon they discover that they have accumulated additional belongings and they once again do not have enough room. The truth of the matter is we are a nation that enjoys indulging our appetites. The "I betcha you can't eat just one" is a safe bet with most of us. One almost always leads to two which leads to three and three quickly becomes a half dozen. We simply have a hard time saying no. This has become so ingrained in our cultural psyche that we seldom question it until our waistlines become too enlarged or we max out our credit limit. I wonder how many believers really ask themselves, what does it mean to deny myself in an age of indulgence? "Do this mean that I should not pursue a job promotion, or is this "selfish ambition and vain conceit"? Do I take a holiday in the Bahamas, or is this a failure to give to someone in need when I have material possessions? Can I buy a season's pass at a ski resort, or is this gross self-indulgence?"2
The real tragedy is that we have taken on the same
mindset as the culture. If we have the money, or if we have the time, we have
the right to indulge in the pleasures of life. We ridicule the pleasure-denying
stereotype by which the Puritans have been labeled. Our self-indulgent attitude
has even taken on a spiritual twist. An ad appeared in Backpackers magazine with
a young man in a meditative position. Spread behind him is a sampling of all the
latest outdoor equipment and in the background a 4x4 to carry it all. The ad
tells us that to truly get in touch with Mother Earth you need not only one of
everything, but you also need a new pick up truck to carry it all.
The disciple finally understood the message. They finally put it all together. It was truly an "Aw, haw" experience for Peter. The puzzle finally became a picture. The parts suddenly fit together. Why not go out and tell the world? Jesus had a very good reason. The people were not ready to hear the message and the disciples were not ready for the reaction of the people.
This is uncomfortable dimension of the Christian
message-the gospel creates conflict wherever it goes. We want our religion to be
a soothing, tranquil experience that offers guidance through the problems of
life and comfort during difficult times. After all, isn't Jesus the good
shepherd who takes care of his sheep. Doesn't he promise to lead us beside still
waters and find green pastures where we can lazily graze and indulge our
appetites while he protects us from danger. Such a religion would be very
appealing but Jesus does not offer it to us.
Not only would the gospel bring conflict but our Lord also told his disciples that he would have to die for the faith. Hearing this message for the first time, Peter takes Jesus aside and scolds him for having such ideas. The irony is startling. Peter, the quick tempered, uncouth vacillating disciple, is now instructing Jesus on how he should act in public. If Peter had done this to one of us there probably would have been a clash of egos. We would have seen this as a challenge. Peter would have been seen as the presumptuous student attempting to correct his teacher. We probably would have defended ourselves. Jesus cuts right through the clash of egos and sees Peter's rebuke as another effort by Satan to pull him off his course. In the third temptation, Satan offered Jesus the seductive possibility of an earthly reign without the messiness of suffering and death. "Recognizing Peter's devilish suggestion for what it was, Jesus resisted him with verbal force."3
The contest between Peter and Jesus was a spiritual contest of minds and wills. Human will against the will of God. Peter is thinking strictly in human terms. He is like a man who has just been named campaign manager of a promising presidential candidate. He is astonished by the candidates declaration that he will accomplish his goals by being jailed and electrocuted for a capital offense. The Messiah is supposed to save and liberate the people not be executed on criminal charges. The image of a crucified Messiah does not fit Peter's paradigm. It defies reason. However, this is God's way, and Jesus, obedient to God's way, will not be swayed by human thoughts. "If Peter cannot accept in trust the 'stumbling block' of the cross, then he will himself become a 'stumbling block' strewn in the pathway of God's Son."4
We may think are motives are pure. We may think our
reasons are sound but we must learn that the first step of self-denial is to
"let not our reason, nor our will, ...sway our plans and deeds."5 This does not
mean that God's plans are always contrary to human reason. The outlandish,
irrational and irresponsible methods are just that-outlandish, irrational and
irresponsible. Just because an idea is silly does not mean it was spirit
The question arises, how do we discern God's will over and against our will. Unfortunately, God does not give us a criteria list by which we can elevate our plans and ideas. Only by staying open to the leading of the Spirit, only by maintaining an attitude of prayer and spending time reading the Scriptures with an open mind will we be able to discern the voice of God. We must realize that there is a clear distinction between the will of God and human reason. The latter may sound attractive and be very appealing but it is often the voice of Satan in disguise.
Tom took the Bible seriously, literally. But when his church found out about his letter, they kicked him out, excommunicated him.
"Where do you think I got this stuff?" he asked them. "You're the ones who made me memorize Scripture. You told me that Jesus wanted me for a disciple. Did you not expect me to do what I was told? I really believed you."6
Whether you agree or disagree with that young man's decision you should admire his courage. He made an unpopular choice. He could have taken the expedient route and just gone along for the ride. He was only asked to register. He was not asked to serve. All he had to do was keep his religious views to himself and sign a piece of paper. However, the gospel calls his to take a stand, not the most expedient but the most faithful. I wonder if we are willing to deny our self and take a step of obedience that may be unpopular and controversial.
The first day was one of the worst with physicals, haircuts, and the first meeting with the sergeant. That night, when they at last were in bed and the yelling and the cursing had stopped and all was quiet. My friend heard, just a bunk or two beyond his own, someone speaking quietly. The young man was this named, Sweat. He was from Tennessee. Ran track for them. He was saying his prayers.
You do not need to much imagination to figure out
how this display of piety was greeted by his barrack mates? There were hoots,
cat-calls. "What the . . . are you doing, Sweat?" they cried. "He wants his
mama!" others shouted. He didn't move. He kept praying. When he finished, he got
back in his bunk and went to sleep.
Next night, after lights were out, there he was again. There were cat-calls and comments again, but they were fewer. The next night, when Sweat said his prayers, only one person said anything and then very little. The night after, I heard someone else say "Amen," when Sweat finished. When boot camp was over at the end of August, the platoon voted Sweat the best cadet.
He really wasn't so good a soldier. But he was what they might have liked to be as people. No one got down on his knees to join Sweat, everyone else was too busy trying to pretend to be soldiers.
Sweat demonstrated that sometimes the gospel calls
us to forget about what other people think of us and just live out the