Love, Hard and Dreadful

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2017:

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2017

By Deacon Lawrence N. Kaas September 3, 2017

One of the first books about Dorothy Day’s Catholic worker movement was entitled, “A Harsh and Dreadful Love.” The title refers to an episode in which a pious woman tells a holy man that she dreams of serving the poor as a Sister of Mercy. The wistful thought brings tears to her eyes, but the romance fades when she considers that the really poor may be ungrateful for her sacrifices. The holy man replies, “love in practice is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to the love that we dream.” This seems to sum up the message of today’s liturgy.

Today we see Jeremiah at his best while bordering on the blasphemous. He accuses God of seducing him into a life that brought him nothing but hardship and rejection. He never wanted to be a prophet, but he was enticed by God who spoke tenderly, saying “I formed you in the womb.” Then God promised: “I am with you to deliver you…I will put my words in your mouth.”

Jeremiah fell for it. He allowed God to work through him, and the people rejected him for proclaiming God’s word. Jeremiah was miserable because he shared God’s fate.

Jesus of all people could understand Jeremiah’s plight. As God’s beloved, He not only spoke God’s word, He lived and breathed the Father’s care. He gave of Himself as bread for the hungry and moved through life as God’s hand outstretched to the rejected and the needy. History and His own experience of being criticized, rejected and threatened assured him that the powerful would seek a way to do Him in.

We can assume that when Jesus talked about his impending suffering and death it was not to impress His disciples with His ability to tell the future. He was sharing His heart. He wanted them to know and understand what He had discerned about God’s will for Him.

When He said He must go to Jerusalem, he was saying that was the only way to be true to His vocation. The disciples were savvy enough that they weren’t surprised that going to Jerusalem would bring suffering to Jesus. What they didn’t understand, however, was why He would do it in the first place.

That was what Jesus had to teach them, He tried again and again. His primary way of teaching was through action – only after acting did He explain what he was doing.

Jesus had to go to Jerusalem because to avoid confronting the powers aligned against Him He would have to admit to the impotence of His own message. So, in essence, He said, “they’re going to unleash everything in their arsenal against me, and it is going to take my life. But, God will not let that be the end of the story.” He puts all His cards on the table: “If you believe in me, if you want to follow me, this is where the road is leading.” Jesus’ faith, at that moment, was greater than anything the disciples could imagine.

Jesus wasn’t courting death. He wasn’t even baiting His opponents. He was simply teaching His disciples that His integrity demanded that He not hide from danger. He had to decide between being true to His father’s message and saving His skin. He decided to leave the matter to God, trusting that His Father would also give Him the grace and strength to accomplish His will.

Unlike some of our brothers and sisters in places like Africa and the Middle East, few of us in the United States will ever have to face anything like the persecution Jesus and his disciples were confronted with. To those of us who don’t have to walk the road toward martyrdom, Paul offers a different and no less costly challenge. He’s not saying “run to the Coliseum to volunteer for a lion fight.” That is too easy, as a once and for all solution, a romantic hero’s role that we choose for ourselves. Paul calls us, instead, into a daily struggle for faithfulness: “do not conform yourselves to this age.”

This is the call to live with Christ-like integrity, to stand up for the values of the reign of God, no matter the cost. Ellie Wiesel, the Nobel Prize laureate who survived the Holocaust, is quoted as saying: “we must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor… Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Our road to Jerusalem offers us glimpses of religious persecution, of refugees turning away from their shelters, and billboards advertising a philosophy that proclaims that we will make a better world by putting ourselves first. Disciples of Jesus do not remain silent. Such realities demand of us a gospel response.

Gospel love is indeed hard and dreadful. It can cost us everything. But, is there anything worth living for without it?

So you all be Good, be Holy preach the Gospel always and if necessary use words.

(‘Thank you’ to Deacon Kaas, for letting me post his reflection here — Brian H. Gill.)

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