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Father Muench Says...

Following Jesus often involves suffering

September 9, 2020

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

There are times when our Sunday Scriptures are rather harsh, and this has been true during these recent weeks of the pandemic, and for good reason. I am certain you and I would like more joyful readings. We want to be some encouragement. However, we must learn that following Jesus means that finding that happiness and peace often involves pain and suffering for our Savior. Our joy has meant pain for our Savior.

One Sunday recently demonstrated this for us. I am certain you will remember. The first reading was from Jeremiah and began with the expression, “You duped me, O Lord.” The Gospel reading that Sunday was when Jesus spoke to the apostles about his coming sufferings, and Peter became angry. You will remember that Peter took Jesus aside, and the Gospel goes on to tell us Peter rebuked Jesus. Peter loved Jesus so much that he could not accept that Jesus would suffer and be killed.

We are surprised when Jesus immediately gets upset with Peter. He was aware how Peter felt, but he needed Peter to understand that suffering would be part of the declaration that would demonstrate how much God loves Peter for all time, as seen in the crucifixion of Jesus. This must become Peter’s teaching all the way to Rome; Peter must help people understand God’s great love for us all through the crucifixion of Jesus. Jesus wants Peter to understand, so he challenges him, and I am certain surprises him by saying, “Get behind me, Satan.” You have so much to understand and so much to believe.

Jesus has always been associated with Jeremiah, the seventh century B.C, prophet. In that Sunday’s reading, Jeremiah is upset with God. He has been inspired by God to preach a message that is so violent to his people, urging the people to find God. But his violent message upsets the leaders of the city, and he is punished for preaching in this fashion. He is put into stocks – that wooden structure that was actually used in our own country during revolutionary days to punish law breakers. When Jeremiah is released, he writes a long poem, like a song. When I hear this reading each year, I call to mind this wonderful story. He writes, “You duped me, O Lord.” Then he adds to the message, “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 love; I grow weary holding it in. I cannot believe it.”

Jeremiah just has to bring God’s message, no matter how painful it will be for him. It will be difficult, he will suffer as he attempts to convince people of God’s love. Jesus decided that he must make certain that Peter gets the real message. Peter will never forget that moment when he brings to others his message that Jesus had to suffer to demonstrate God’s great love for all peoples. Peter learns that he must accept the pain of suffering. His sufferings and his own crucifixion will demonstrate how much Peter loves Jesus and that he was dedicated to bringing that love to others. We are called to be like Peter. And in many ways, we are to be like Jeremiah also. Often the message of God that we, priests, must bring to people is harsh, and we are almost like Jeremiah: we resist being so bold and harsh, and yet the Lord inspires us with the importance of the message. Like Jeremiah, it often become like fire burning in our hearts.

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