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Victor Cancino, S.J.August 30, 2023
Photo from Unsplash.

In Scripture, a vocation to serve God is rarely a smooth path forward. Today’s readings reflect the frustrations that sometimes come with answering God’s call.

Be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God. (Rom 12:2)

Liturgical day
Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jer 20:7-9, Ps 63, Rom 12:1-2, Mt 16:21-27

Are you able to freely discuss any source of frustration with God?

What particular frustration can you discern now and bring to prayer?

How do time and distance help you to see what God sees?

Jeremiah, in this Sunday’s first reading, experiences the frustration of not being in control of his own narrative. Early in Jeremiah’s life, he responded to the Lord’s call reluctantly, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak for I am only a boy” (Is 1:6). But God convinced the young Jeremiah that divine presence and protection would be with him to rescue from any harm (see Is 1:8). 

Now, the older and wiser man is upset that God has not kept his part of the deal. The pain and frustration are evident, “You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped… all the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me” (Is 20:7). Regardless of this real despair, God’s original promise anchors Jeremiah’s song of lament. In the following verses, the prophet breaks through his frustration, “But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not prevail” (Is 20:11).

For Peter, too, following Jesus is no smooth and clear path forward. Recent Sunday Gospels have highlighted Peter’s turbulent relationship with Christ. Meaningful things are often difficult, and at this point in Peter’s discipleship he has much to learn. He cannot see where his vocation will lead. Jesus has repeatedly challenged Peter to grow and mature in the Spirit. Sometimes these challenges are severe. When Peter fails to walk on water, Jesus says of him, “O you of little faith” (Mt 14:31). In last Sunday’s Gospel, the challenge was encouraging, as Jesus called him the “rock” upon which the foundations of the church would stand firm (Mt 16:18). 

In this week’s Gospel, Peter receives another challenge. For the first time in Matthew’s Gospel, the reader is introduced to one of three predictions of the passion. Jesus speaks of suffering and taking up one’s cross, which Peter passionately refuses to accept. Jesus responds unequivocally to Peter’s misunderstanding, “Get behind me Satan! You are thinking not as God does but as human beings do” (Mt 16:23). What whiplash for Peter to move from “the rock” of the church, to then become a satan! These recent Gospel readings give a good view of the frustrations Peter encountered in his discipleship. 

Jeremiah and Peter find their frustrations relieved as they continue forward on their journey. Being a “servant of the Lord” does not come with clear instructions, and this may feel like one is stumbling through life, or even driven to despair. In fact, it is Jeremiah’s insight that helps us to pray with these readings. The faithful servant may feel frustration, but in the end, those who fight against God are the ones that will struggle, “My persecutors will stumble,” says the prophet at an age of greater maturity, “they will not prevail.” It takes time for the drama of one’s vocation to unfold. It takes trust.

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