We are in the 22nd Sunday in ordinary time. The readings for this Sunday remind us that we are called to live our lives in a way that is different from others. Christian discipleship demands honesty, the willingness to suffer, the willingness “to take up your cross,” to demonstrate generosity, “to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice to God,” and to demonstrate the readiness to follow Jesus by obeying His commandments.
The readings explain how this mission can be accomplished. In the first reading we see that the prophet Jeremiah was sent by God with a special mission, which was to preach to and to bring people to repentance. Jeremiah was faithful to his mission, but his preaching and message became an object of scorn. The people rebelled and misunderstood the prophet, regarding him as a traitor. Because he was viewed as God’s mouthpiece, he had to foretell the people of the dire consequences that would follow from their plan of revolt against the mighty power of God. The people refused to accept and rebelled against him, and Jeremiah consequently became depressed and complained to God. He even accused Yahweh of tricking him. This offers us a powerful example of someone suffering for obedience to his faith and conscience. This is the cross that Jesus refers to in the Gospel for doing His will and following His ways. Though the prophet faced many challenges he remained faithful to his call.
Paul advises the Roman Christians that they must live their lives in such a way that they differ from others. Paul calls them to adopt an attitude of sacrifice in their worship of God. In order to do this, Paul explained, they must explicitly reject the behavior of the world around them. Paul tells them, and us as well to: “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice” to God. Paul then explains that the sacrifices that should be offered are not animals or grains, but their own bodies should serve “as a living sacrifice . . . spiritual worship.” In this way, by non-conformity to their own age, they should differ from others as we, in turn, must do. Like Paul’s Christians, we, too, must “discern what is God’s will, good, pleasing, and perfect,” and then do it.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus takes His disciples by surprise when, after Peter’s great confession of Faith, Jesus announces 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.” After rebuking Peter’s protest, Jesus announces the three conditions of Christian discipleship: “deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.” Self-denial means evicting selfish thoughts, desires and tendencies from our hearts and letting God fill our hearts. Carrying the cross means that we must endure the pain and suffering that goes hand-in-hand with doing God’s will. Our personal sufferings become the cross of Jesus when we suffer by serving others selflessly and by giving ourselves freely and generously for others. Following Jesus means, as disciples of Christ, we should live our lives according to the word of God, that is, obeying God’s commandments and doing His will.
True disciples of Christ must be genuinely compassionate; they must be willing to visit the sick and care for the needy, the elderly, and the lonely; exhibit genuine humility; they are able to see that every good gift and blessing comes from God; be truly patient with one another; truly forgiving, always be willing to forgive, not just once or twice, but always, because they know that God has forgiven them; be truly loving like Jesus Whose love is selfless and unconditional; and be truly faithful—living out a committed, trusting relationship with God, with spouse, with family and friends. Being a disciple of Jesus and following His commandments is not easy and can be challenging, but what is important is being faithful to what we do and to our call as followers of Jesus.