by Father Jean-Pierre Ruiz
There are pages in the Bible that keep me awake at night. This Sunday’s reading from the book of Jeremiah is one of those, but I know I am not alone in my deep discomfort about it when I compare the different ways the first verse has been translated. In the Lectionary for Mass, it reads, “You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped; you were too strong for me, and you triumphed.”
The Contemporary English Version goes a bit too far by rendering this verse as “You tricked me, Lord, and I was really fooled. You are stronger than I am, and you have defeated me.” Whether it’s “duped” or “deceived” or “tricked” or worse, there’s no getting around the fact that Jeremiah is complaining about the predicament God has gotten him into. “All the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me … the word of the Lord has brought me derision and reproach all the day.”
Perhaps Jeremiah recalled God’s first words to him, “a prophet to the nations I appointed you.” If so, he just as certainly remembered his objection, “Ah, Lord God! I do not know how to speak. I am too young,” along with the words of divine reassurance that overcame his resistance: “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ To whomever I send you, you shall go … Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.”
“Promises, promises!” the prophet might have complained as he endured persecution even from people he thought were friends. Although she lived centuries later than Jeremiah, he would have found a kindred spirit in St. Teresa of Avila, the great mystic and Doctor of the Church. It is said that Teresa, after enduring the latest of a long list of indignities, protested to God with a hint of humor, “If this is how you treat your friends, it’s no wonder that you have so few of them!”
Jesus put it bluntly: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” The paradox Jesus sets before us is that winning what really matters involves losing. This peculiar logic of gaining all by surrendering everything — even life — for Jesus’ sake, makes sense only in the shadow of Christ’s own cross. We read how Saint Paul urged the Roman church, “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”
What was true then remains true in our times, for this is the logic by which St. Oscar Arnulfo Romero lived and died. In the homily he preached at the Mass during which he was assassinated, Romero explained, “you have just heard Christ’s Gospel, that one must not love oneself so much as to avoid getting involved in the risks of life which history demands of us, that those who would avoid the danger will lose their life, while those who out of love for Christ give themselves to the service of others will live, like the grain of wheat that dies, but only apparently. If it did not die, it would remain alone. The harvest comes about because it dies, allows itself to be sacrificed in the earth and destroyed.”
We need not search long or far to find examples of disciples who lived according to the wisdom of the grain of wheat and the logic of the cross. In our own diocese, the Servant of God Msgr. Bernard J. Quinn wrote these words to his parishioners at St. Peter Claver in 1922: “I love you, I am proud of every one of you, and I would willingly shed to the last drop my life’s blood for the least among you.”
Following the counsel of St. Paul, Quinn faced formidable opposition as he pushed against the racism that infects both the church and society. He knew the risks he faced. May his example strengthen our resolve to live according to the life-giving logic of the cross that resists the spirit of this age and that speaks the truth no matter the consequences.
Readings for the Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Psalm 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
Father Ruiz, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, is a professor of theology at St. John’s University, Jamaica.