Scripture reflections – Sunday, August 28, 2011

Jer 20:7-9; Rom 12:1-2; Mt 16: 21-27

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

“You duped me. O LORD, and I let myself be duped!”

This is one of my favorite lines – and favorite readings – in the entire Old Testament.  I love it because Jeremiah is so honest about the experience of   being in relationship with God in a world that so often misunderstands and is threatened by a person who has such a close relationship with God.   I love it because of the tremendous faith and vitality this cry of Jeremiah reveals.  No “Old man with a beard, sitting on a distant cloud, frowning” kind of a God for Jeremiah.  For Jeremiah, God is real –  frustratingly, perplexingly, passionately real.  God is the “fire in Jeremiah’s bones” that cannot be contained, even though extinguishing those flames, or at least toning them down, would definitely be in the prophet’s best interest – at least as far as the world sees these things,.(It’s worth noting that Jeremiah’s cry to God is closely connected to a story in which he has been dropped into a cistern (think sewer) and left to die by those who did not appreciate his prophetic message. ) For Jeremiah, God is the one about whom he could most truly say – “You can’t live with Him/Her and you can’t live without Him/Her.”

Finally, I love this story because – in a less dramatic way , thank God – I am living it.   Before my own conversion experience which culminated in an Ash Wednesday I’ll never forget, I was on my way out of a church that seemed every bit the medieval, irrelevant, punishing, byzantine institution many of my contemporaries understood it to be. (Most of them still do.)  I was inches from a clean getaway…..and then along came Jesus.  If I could put the experience into the form of a conversation – it would go something like this…..

Jesus:  I need you to stay.

Me:  No way.  This Church of yours is dying and crumbling.  I can’t be a part of that.

Jesus: Don’t be a part of that. Help me renew it.

Me:  Things will never change.  They can’t.

Jesus: Things can be different.  Will you help me make them different?

Me:   Umm……….

How do you say no to Jesus?   And, for awhile there, I really saw what he meant.  Or at least thought I did.  For that first decade or so after the Council, it really did seem like things were changing, that, like the House of Usher in the Edgar Allen Poe story,old and irrelevant means of being Church were crumbling away, and something wonderful was being born – The People of God.

But then, somewhere in the first ten years of Pope John Paul II’s pontificate, the Prague Spring ended.  Since then, on an institutional level anyway, it feels like it’s all been backwards.  As if the voice of the Holy Spirit had never spoken.   As if the Council had given the good housekeeping seal of approval to the pre-Vatican II Church instead of a swift kick in the rump.  But by then, of course, I was already hooked. Once you’ve had a glimpse of Beauty and Truth, you can’t pretend you didn’t.  And how can you not hand your heart over to it?

You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped.

Where to from here?  To be completely honest, I really have no idea.  And, of course, it’s entirely possible I have things completely backwards.  Of two things I am certain, however:  1) As it was for Jeremiah, it is for me. That “fire in my bones” burns hot.   2) Something is dying and something wonderfully new is being born. The laity has moved from childhood to adolescence.  Adulthood is not far off – although I may not live long enough to see the full maturation.

“Whoever seeks his life will lose it, whoever loses his life will find it”, Jesus says.   Perhaps one of the things that “fire in the bones” burns away are the preconceived notions of what a Good Life really means.  And perhaps losing those notions creates a void that the Holy Spirit can fill

In the midst of writing this blog entry I just felt the shockwave of the earthquake in Virginia.  Hm………….

Jim Philipps (3rd millennium pilgrim)

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