22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Choosing the Cross
Choosing the Cross
Readings: Jeremiah 20:7-9; Psalm 62:2-6,8-9; Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 16:21-27
Picture: cc rogiro
Sisters and brothers, how do you make decisions? Is the decision-making process something that interests you? As you may have heard, earlier this month, the Centre for Ignatian Spirituality and Counselling–that building located behind this church–hosted a forum on decision-making according to the teachings of St. Ignatius of Loyola. I was told that the organizers were expecting a modest number of participants–maybe 30 or 40 at most. But more than 120 showed up. It certainly does seem that decision-making is something that interests us.
And yet, we may wonder what exactly it is we think we are doing when we go about making decisions. The impression I sometimes get is that, very often, we equate decision-making with figuring out what we ought to do. We want to know exactly what course of action we should take.
Now this is, of course, an important question. But is decision-making really only about knowledge? Isn’t it true that, all too often, our difficulties in making decisions have to do not so much with knowing which course of action to choose, as it is with finding the courage and strength to choose it? I may know, for example, that I need to stop seeing that person who is already married to someone else. But I don’t really want to do it. Hence the difficulty. Very often, we know what we need to do. We just don’t like to do it.
Take, for another example, yesterday’s polling for the Elected President. We had four candidates from which to choose. Adequate information was provided about each one. Enough, at least, for each of us to make an informed choice. And yet, when faced with this serious decision of choosing a Head of State, almost 38,000 Singaporeans decided to spoil their votes. Why? Did they not know which candidate came closest to their own ideals of what the President should be? Possibly. But I wonder if the problem was perhaps not so much knowing who to choose, as it was being willing to pick someone who was less than ideal. When faced with a choice among options that we may not like, we often shy away from choosing. Not realizing that not deciding is itself a decision. By spoiling my vote, I’m just deciding to let others choose for me.
Quite clearly, then, decision-making involves more than just knowing what to do. It also includes somehow getting in touch with the inner resources that we need, to do what needs to be done. Especially if what needs to be done is very difficult, something we don’t particularly like. It is exactly this kind of situation, that we find in our Mass readings today. In the gospel, Peter has already acknowledged Jesus as the Son of God. But now he discovers not only that Jesus must die a most shameful and painful death, but that Peter himself is being called to follow in Christ’s footsteps. If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, Jesus says, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. The choice is clear. There is no question about what needs to be done. If Peter wants to follow Christ, then he too needs to walk the Way of the Cross. But knowing what needs to be done is not the same as doing it. Peter doesn’t like it. He protests. This must not happen to you. As a result, Jesus rebukes him.
The situation in the first reading is similar. God had called Jeremiah to be a prophet, to speak on God’s behalf. And, after some initial hesitation, Jeremiah had responded generously. But now, Jeremiah is beginning to realize that being a prophet is not such a cushy job after all. More often than not he has to tell people what they do not wish to hear. And people respond not just by rejecting his message, but also by abusing him, the messenger. The word of the Lord, he laments, has meant for me insult, derision, all day long. Again, as with Peter, so too with Jeremiah. The question is not how to discover what needs to be done–that’s clear enough–but how to find the strength to do it.
Thankfully, our readings give us some indication of what to do. Notice Jeremiah’s approach to decision-making. Notice first what he does not do. He does not simply go about trying to find someone who is prepared to tell him what he himself wants to hear, namely, that he can change his profession, that he can stop speaking on God’s behalf. Instead, very honestly, he brings all his complaints before the Lord. He even goes to the extent of claiming that God has seduced him. In another translation, the word used is duped. He says that God has somehow deceived him, the way a false lover might deceive the beloved by whispering sweet nothings into her ear. Bold accusation. And yet, by pouring out what is in his heart in this almost irreverent fashion, something begins to happen to Jeremiah. Underneath all his hurt feelings, he discovers a hidden wellspring of energy. A fire burning in his heart which, for all his complaining, he himself cannot extinguish. What Jeremiah discovers is that his call to be a prophet is not just an external imposition by a demanding, even tyrannical, God. Rather, his call is a deep hunger within him, something he himself yearns to do. In the words of the response to our psalm, Jeremiah discovers that it is for you my soul is thirsting, O Lord my God.
And it is only after we, like Jeremiah, have tapped into this inner fountain of spiritual energy, that we can then begin to put into practice what we are told in the second reading. Having gotten in touch with our own deep hunger and thirst for God–which is really God’s very presence within us–we can then begin to let our behaviour change, modelled by our new mind. We can begin to think in God’s way and not just in our own. For, as the second reading tells us, this is the only way to discover the will of God and know what is good, what it is that God wants, what is the perfect thing to do.
Put in another way, the process of Christian decision-making moves from the heart, to the head, to the hands. It involves not just trying to figure out what exactly it is we need to do, but also discovering the One whom we love. And then in gradually learning to see things the way God sees them. It is only by doing this that we can find the strength to follow Jesus on the Way of the Cross, to choose to continue doing God’s will, even when we may not like it. And, in so doing, to enjoy the reward that Jesus promises to bestow upon us when the Son of Man comes in the glory of his Father with his angels.
Sisters and brothers, what challenges do you face in making your decisions? How will you find the strength to take up your cross today?