Jeremiah 20: 7-9; Romans 12: 1-2; Matthew 16: 21-27
Like most of you, I’m sure, I witnessed many remarkable stories out of Texas this week. I think it’s just amazing what people can do when they’re pushed to that edge when nothing else matters but life. You know, it wasn’t just in Texas either. There were more than 41 million people in South Asia impacted by similar flooding this past week but because of our own devastation we didn’t hear as much about it. I happened to catch an interview on the Weather Channel from a woman who had lost everything like so many others. You know, I had it on as background noise as I was doing some work but I came to attention as I listened to her speak. She had commented about losing everything except a few personal belongings, but it was what she went onto say that struck me. She said, “You know, I had no idea how blind I had become. I had no idea how blind I had become to what I thought was important.” Right there, on the Weather Channel, a witness to a God moment. First an acknowledgement of her own blindness and then a recognition of what really matters in life, what’s most important.
I don’t know why it is, but as humans it seems to be that we only ever get to that point when we’re pushed to that edge. For whatever reason, over the course of time, we buy into the lie, into the illusion, that somehow these things can’t and won’t happen to us. Whether it’s our desire for safety and security in our life and fear of losing it all or maybe buying into the ways of the culture of what it means to be successful, that somehow we need the newest and the best and the biggest. For whatever reason, as humans, we seem to be lulled into believing that there are more important things that are going to satisfy us, bring us fulfillment, make us happy, and without them nothing else matters. It’s often only when we lose it all, when it’s washed away in the floods, when we can say just how blind we had become and finally begin to question what’s most important to us, what do we value most in life, the relationships, the people, the life that God has given to us. Whether we like it or not, it’s going to happen to us and is happening to us, and as Saint Francis would say, it’s best to enter into relationship not only with life but with Sister Death, so that when the ultimate death arrives we can surrender much more easily.
It is the wrestling we do in this life that also encounter in these readings this weekend. No, not in the form of floods and the loss of all personal belongings, but very much in the sufferings of trying to be true to oneself and living from that place of the divine, from what matters and is valued the most within us. Jeremiah seemed to perpetually live that with struggle with what it was God was inviting him into and the ways of the world. He feels that he was somehow duped by God, seduced by this God, into this way of life that has led him to a place of ridicule and being made fun of by others and eventually even threatening his life from the powers that be. As much as he thinks God has duped him it’s really the ways of the world that dupes! He tries constantly to live the life that God had planted within him, to the point where he could feel the fire burning within his very being if he doesn’t. But the people of the world want nothing to do with it as he threatens their own sense of security and success. No one wants to hear that they may be living a life that is less fulfilling than it can be. But he realizes if he doesn’t live the life God had given him, he sells his soul in the process and is it worth gaining the whole world for the sacrifice of one’s integrity and one’s authenticity. As that woman said in that interview, she had no idea how blind she had become. It’s not even that we want all of it but it happens over time, convincing ourselves over and over again that somehow that will be the trick to my unhappiness or my dissatisfaction in life. Jeremiah reminds us it is only by being true to the divine calling placed within ourselves.
Paul also speaks of it in today’s second reading reminding the Romans not to conform to the ways of the world. Jesus reiterates it to the disciples asking them what is most important and what is valued most. Just last week Peter was given this place of authority in the group, this prominent place among the other disciples and already he’s buying into the what success means of the world. Somehow he even thinks that Jesus is free of suffering and loss. He begins to think as we often tell ourselves that it’s not going to happen to us. Somehow we will be free of suffering in our lives despite the fact that we know one of the only things we can be sure of is that at some point Sister Death will come knocking and is knocking, trying to awaken us from our own blindness and move us to greater depths within ourselves and asking what’s most important, what do we value the most. The more we give into this false sense of security and success and even this invincibility, the more we separate ourselves from the divine, from the soul, from what matters most to us.
We are being given a graced moment right now. Sure, we are called to help our brothers and sisters in Texas and throughout the month we’ll be collecting money through the poor box here. But we also mustn’t forget that they do not walk this suffering alone. We stand on that edge with the people of Texas, the people of South Asia, and with anyone suffering at this moment we stand with them. The silver lining in it all for us is that we don’t have to wait. As Saint Francis testified with his own life, learn to let go of the illusions and lies that the world tries to sell us, that there is something better than the divine indwelling. It so wants to rob us of it and assure us that it’s the be all and end all, what is most necessary for fulfillment in life. It will happen to all of us, maybe on in severe flooding, but in the testing of our own mortality, our midlife crises that creep up on us, loss and suffering, all of it seems to be one of the few ways to wake us from our blindness as it did that woman in Texas. We don’t have to wait in our lives. The question remains with us no matter what. It’s a matter if we can be aware of it and even begin to stand on the edge with it, asking ourselves what really matters, what’s most important in our lives and is any of it worth sacrificing our own lives, our own souls for it.