1990 Sept 2 – 22nd Sun Ord Time (Prison Writings)
22nd Sun Ord Time Cycle A
Jer: 20: 7—9
Rm . 12: 1- 2
Mt. 16: 21-27
“Get Out Of My Sight, You Satan! You Are Trying To Make Me Trip And Fall.” Matt 16:23
How quickly Peter blows it. Just last week we read in the Gospel how Peter, who when asked, was able to proclaim Jesus as the “Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” It was a proclamation Jesus recognized as divinely inspired. Based on his divine proclamation Jesus renames Peter the “Rock” for Peter was to be the person on whom Jesus would build his Church. Peter was also given a new role, as “Keeper of the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven” for Peter was to serve as the head steward for Jesus’ Church. Peter was given power to hold people bound or loosen within the Church with his authority coming directly from God.
The Gospel begins with Jesus making the first of three predictions about his death and resurrection. These three predictions are found in all three synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke. In each Gospel the predictions follow Peter’s proclamation of Jesus’ Messiahship. They make a dramatic shift in the overall Gospel stories. From this point on Jesus and his disciples begin their assault on Jerusalem and Jesus’ final confrontation. Each of the predictions are followed by the disciples misunderstanding which serve as an opportunity for Jesus to instruct them on the truer and deeper meaning of his mission and their call to discipleship. With this first prediction Jesus begins to reveal what his Messiahship is all about. Peter immediately demonstrates the dangers of exercising his newly acquired divine authority from his own limited and flawed human perspective.
No sooner does Jesus make his prediction of his suffering and death at the hands of the nations leaders in Jerusalem than Peter takes Jesus aside to” remonstrate” him. To remonstrate is to give reasoned objection. In Peter’s mind, if Jesus was the long awaited Messiah then to knowingly go up to Jerusalem to be handed over by the leaders of the nations and be put to death was definitely the wrong thing to be doing. Every one knew and expected the Messiah would be a powerful spiritual leader sent by God. A spiritual leader with a very political mission to unite all of Israel and. throw the Romans out of their country. Peter took Jesus aside because he knew this was not the time for a naked confrontation with the authorities in Jerusalem that would get Jesus killed. Now was the time for coalition building. They needed to network with the Zealots and their friends, the central ruling class in Jerusalem. At the right moment everyone will come together under Jesus leadership with the masses of people behind him and start the revolution to kick out the Romans. Peter was acting in Jesus best interest when he took him aside. He was acting in a very reasonable way.
Yet Jesus would have none of Peter’s reasoned advice. Jesus only had strong words for Peter. Now the “Rock” is called Satan and the Keeper of the Keys of the Kingdom is a stumbling block for the Messiah. What happened? Why the sudden change of Jesus assessment of Peter? (and what does this say about the infallibility the Pope!)
“You Are Not Judging by God’s Standards. But by Humans.” Matt. 16:23
Peters divine insight of Jesus’ messiahship was followed by his flawed human understanding of what Jesus’ messiahship was all about. If Jesus was the long awaited Messiah, he was not the kind of Messiah, Peter and all of Israel was expecting. Jesus totally rejected the image of an expected Messiah who would bring about the liberation of Israel through the traditional power politics of the world. Jesus’ Kingdom rejected the concept that “might makes right” that nations and peoples are made secure through the threat of violence and military strength. Jesus would exercise his Messiahship in entirely different terms. Radical, non-violent, self-sacrificing, unconditional love was the measure by which Jesus was going to practice his Messiahship. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, his mandate to love all people, even enemies, his counsel for voluntary poverty and his directive to provide for the poor are more than high sounding platitudes. Jesus really meant them and he wanted his followers to follow them. Jesus lived this “way of love” in an active sometimes confrontational way. These were the standards by which God was judging Jesus’ Messiahship. These are not the standards set by the world. Peter’s divine insight of Jesus as Messiah demanded a whole new understanding of what Messiahship is all about.
“ If You Wish To Come After Me…” Matt. 16: 24-27
Verses 24-27 are four of the most powerful and direct verses in the entire Gospel. Jesus lays it on the line for his disciples and the larger Church. He tells us just what is expected of anyone wishing to be his follower. It would be a gross misreading of these verses to too readily spiritualize them without first struggling with their primary and functional level of reality. Jesus had just told his disciples that he was headed for Jerusalem to be put to death by the nations leaders. . The primary and functional level of reality in which Jesus was operating was the social political level. When Jesus tells his disciples that they must deny their selves, take up their crosses and follow in his footsteps he could not be any clearer. Just as Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem to confront the “powers that be” so must his disciples in their own post-resurrected setting that they find themselves in take on the social political “powers” for the sake of the Gospel. . In fact, many of the original disciples (all but one of the 12 apostles) actually did follow in Jesus footsteps and joined him in martyrdom.
When Jesus says those who would save their lives will lose them while those who lose their lives for his sake will find them, he is speaking about the life and death choices that his followers will need to make in their efforts to fully embrace his way of love. Jesus asks two rhetorical questions to highlight the contrast between the world’s values and the kingdoms values. He asks, what profits a person to gain the whole world yet ruin themselves in the process? And what worldly things can a person exchange for their very selves? For Jesus no accumulation of wealth or power is worth a single human soul.
Jesus is clearly telling his disciples to live their lives as he did and be prepared to die, as he will in Jerusalem. There is no doubt about it; the Way of Jesus is an extreme and very impractical way to 1ive. There is nothing reasonable about these directives. Yet they have everything to do with what being faithful is all about.
“You Duped Me, O Lord And I Let Myself Be Duped.” Jer 20: 7
Jeremiah had the unfortunate prophetic task of announcing to the unreceptive people the end of their nation, the fall at Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple. To his contemporaries Jeremiah’ s prophetic utterances were nothing short of blasphemy and treasonous. Like most prophets, Jeremiah suffered a great deal because of his message. During his long career his own people despised him. He suffered years of public rejection. He was imprisoned and almost killed. At the very end of his ministry, just before the fall of Jerusalem, he was thrown into a dry well and left to die by the priest of the temple. His life was saved by an Egyptian who took him back to Egypt where he spent the last days of his life in exile, a broken man. .
The book of Jeremiah is unique because it includes six segments called the “Confessions of Jeremiah” where the prophet speaks from his heart of the personal anguish and suffering he experienced because of his message. This week’s first reading comes from the fifth “Confession of Jeremiah.” It’s passionate it’s personal. It is the prophet speaking from the depths of his soul directly to God. He is upset and angry with God. He believes God has put him in an unfair position. He’s fed up with his task. He wants to throw in the towel but he can’t. As terrible and obscene as Jeremiah’s message was he could not, not speak it. To hold back, to ignore the inner urgings to speak what he knew to be true ripped his guts. As bad as his truth was, it would be worse to bury it and ignore it. He had to speak out.
The Prophets Dilemma: Part One:
It should come as no surprise that I like these two verses in Jeremiah very much. Jeremiah lays out the prophet’s dilemma in the most dramatic and bold terms. True prophetic messages come from within, delivered to a people by one of their own. The true prophet dearly loves the people they are called to address. If their message is harsh, it is given with no great pleasure. Jeremiah, like many other prophets, would have gladly been proven wrong. But he had no choice; to hold back the message given to him would be to suffer self-destruction.
I too share in a small measure Jeremiah’s plight. The dangers of Nuclear weapons are not a popular subject. Most people would just as soon not think about them. Best to leave such concerns to the people in charge. Besides, it is easier to believe the wisdom of the Bomb is working; the peace has been kept (at least for us). Can’t we do both, live with Nuclear weapons and not be affected by possessing them? Yet, I’m compelled to say NO! My inner voice tells me it can’t be done. I must speak out. I must act out my resounding NO! I take no pleasure in this message. I do not like sitting in jail. I pray the moral and mortal jeopardy we have placed ourselves in with these terrible weapons will never come to pass. But speak out, and act out I must. To hold back would be to suffer my own self-destruction. Like Jeremiah, I’m caught up in. the prophet’s dilemma.
90 10 02 – Spiritual Needs Met:
Since my visit with Bishop Dudley nine priests have visited me from the Sioux Falls Diocese. Bishop Dudley has put the word out to his priests that one of their own is locked up for good cause and they should come visit me. Fr. Jim Kiernan, Fr. Jack Kissling and Fr. Bob Lieweke S.J. have also visited me from back home. The visit from the Bishop and other priests has been a boost to my morale. (They would not have been able to visit me so freely in Sarpy County Jail.) I’m very impressed with Bishop Dudley and the stung endorsement he has given for me to his priests.
Fr. Leonard Kayser is coming to visit me twice a week to celebrate the Eucharist with me. These are special moments. I am so grateful for the opportunity to celebrate the Eucharist while in captivity. I met Fr. Leonard some years ago while I was at the Catholic Worker in Des Moines. Fr. Leonard was working at the National Catholic Rural Life Office in Des Moines. He used to visit us at the Catholic Worker. We have kept in touch ever since. I’m happy to have such a close friend in Sioux Falls.
In between the days Fr. Leonard comes, I have a private communion service with held over blessed hosts. I keep the blessed “contraband” wrapped in toilet paper hidden in my cell. This week we had a close call. There was a major shake down of our cellblock. We were taken to the library and our cells were searched thoroughly. I had to slip my contraband into the tops of my socks, I was wearing to avoid discovery. It was a close call.
I also pray my office daily, more faithfully locked up than when I am free. It’s not easy praying the office over the blare of the T.V. I find I must recite it out loud just to hear the words I pray. The guys in the block don’t seem to mind the strange sounds coming from my cell. Overall my spiritual needs are being met. The real struggles here are internal and some days are better than others.