Sunday, August 30, 2020

Pandemic & Priorities

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Readings: Jeremiah 20:7-9; Psalm 62(63):2-6,8-9; Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 16:21-27

Picture: Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York

My dear friends, have you noticed how a crisis can reveal our true priorities? I recently stumbled upon a viral video clip of two men having a heated argument on a bus. Perhaps you’ve seen it too. It seems one of them was not wearing his mask properly, and the other, the bus captain, refused to move the bus until he did so. At one point, the passenger could be heard shouting, it’s my life! These words might seem to indicate that the passenger values his personal comfort even more than his own life, let alone the lives of others. So hasn’t the pandemic uncovered his true priorities?

Similarly, in both the first reading and the gospel, we see priorities being uncovered by a crisis of persecution. Jeremiah is imprisoned for delivering an unpopular message from God to the people. Jesus predicts that he will soon have to suffer and die at the hands of his enemies, before being raised up on the third day. Yet, although Jeremiah complains bitterly about his troubles, both he and Jesus somehow find the courage to submit. Each is willing to lay down his life. Not for the sake of comfort. But for the sake of the mission that each has received from God. As with that passenger on the bus, a time of crisis reveals the true priorities of Jeremiah and Jesus. For them both, God comes first, even before life itself.

Which may lead us to wonder how the right priorities can be cultivated in us. And, if our priorities are too selfish or short-sighted, how might they be changed? Here in our fine city, the obvious way is, of course, through stiff penalties for non-compliance. No mask? $300 fine. But our readings propose a different approach. In the case of Jeremiah, for example, the motivation for putting God first comes not so much as an external imposition, but as an inner fire raging within the heart, a burning thirst drawing the soul closer to God.

The second reading offers us a helpful way to kindle this inner fire, to attend more closely to this God-seeking thirst. Think of God’s mercy, St Paul writes, and worship him… by offering your living bodies as a holy sacrifice… Regularly call to mind the merciful love that God has shown us in the Cross of Christ, and continues to show us, especially here at the Eucharist, but also in our daily lives. By doing this, we allow the spark of God’s great love for us – so undeserved, and so often taken for granted – to set our own hearts on fire.

Pondering God’s mercy towards us can lead to the proper ordering of our priorities, so that love for God and neighbour gradually takes precedence over all else. Even over our own comfort and convenience, our own liberty and life. Surely, this is a timely reminder for us, even as Covid-19 continues to test our faith and hope in God, as well as the mercy and love we have for others, particularly those most vulnerable.

Sisters and brothers, as individuals and as families, as a nation and as a community of disciples of Christ, what must we do to allow God to properly order our priorities today?

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