Reading 1: Jeremiah 22:19-23
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 63:2-6, 8-9
Reading 2: Romans 12:1-2
Gospel: Matthew 16:13-20
A Fire In My Bones
Recently a friend sent me an extremely moving YouTube video. Arrayed like a gallery of individuals in a Zoom meeting (I trust everyone knows about Zoom by now!) were thirty or forty young musicians. They were obviously separated each in their own space but the music they made together across those spaces was heavenly. Only after a few minutes did I notice in the corner of the screen a digital clock pacing off the seconds and minutes until it reached 8 minutes and 46 seconds — the terrible length of time it took for George Floyd’s agonizing death by asphyxiation — and then the beautiful music came to an end.
I am sure we have all at some point had deeply moving experiences that leave their mark on us. The rapture of listening to beautiful music; moments of tenderness with people we love; witnessing the nobility of someone who is able to forgive without bitterness; a vista of nature that takes our breath away; observing the incredible fragility yet exquisitely sculpted tiny body of an infant.
But we also experience at times deep-down weariness and anxiety. The stabbing fear of learning we are seriously ill. Anxiety as bills mount up with no relief in sight. The loss of a loved one and the emptiness that can sap our spirit. The forced absence nowadays from the quietly joyful routines of eating out with friends or visiting our families. Throw on top of that, the threat of the pandemic, the sadness of the looting and violence, the deep wounds of injustice.
I mention this litany of joys and sorrows because the readings for this Sunday tap into a deep biblical motive about the search for ultimate meaning and happiness that God alone can provide. We savor the joys of life but suffering and loss remind us that life is also very fragile. Yet the biblical peoples also understood that God can be elusive — glimpsed in moments of both ecstasy and suffering but never fully captured. Who can say it better than the prophet Jeremiah who had so many ups and downs? In this extraordinary passage, he accuses God of “duping” him. Jeremiah put his life on the line for God, but God seemed not to reciprocate. In another passage, Jeremiah compares the search for God to following a flowing brook through the wilderness that suddenly runs dry.
But try as he might, Jeremiah cannot cease searching for God and from proclaiming God’s message. God’s word, the prophet laments, becomes like a raging “fire in his bones.” Jeremiah groans that he “grows weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.”
This motif of searching for God amid the joys and sorrows of our lives is picked up in the response Psalm 63: “My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God. You are my God whom I seek; for you, my flesh pines and my soul thirsts like the earth, parched, lifeless, and without water.” “My soul clings fast to you; your right hand upholds me.”
The second reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans echoes this same biblical lifelong search for God. “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. 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.”
The gospel reading might seem unconnected to the motif of the search for God, evident in the other readings for today. This is the first passion prediction in Matthew’s narrative — Jesus alerts his disciples that his commitment to God’s will is to take him to Jerusalem where he anticipates suffering and death. Peter dismisses Jesus’ prediction, but Jesus tells his disciples that only those “willing to lose their life will save it… What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit one’s life?” A probing question for sure: what is the deepest, most important reality of our lives? Seek God at all costs and we will find rest for our souls.
Fr. Donald Senior, CP
President Emeritus, Chancellor, Professor of New Testament Studies
Adapted with permission from Donald Senior’s weekly column, “Perspectives on Scripture” that appears in The Chicago Catholic archdiocesan newspaper.