Beyond the Present Moment

Beyond the Present Moment

Twenty-Second Sunday of the Year. fr Aelred Connelly shows how the cross of Jesus Christ jolts us out of our complacency in the here and now.

I am writing this in late July. Today I was teasing my eighty-six year old aunt on the bus going up to the local hospital to visit my eighty-six year old uncle, her husband. You know you are getting old, when your nephew has a bus pass as well as yourself! She wondered if free bus passes for the over sixties would continue in an independent Scotland. Perhaps it is the mundane issues rather than the matters of great weight which will count in the referendum vote in September up here.

As you get older and more world-weary, the passion of bygone years seems to have waned. So today’s reading are just the jolt we older or not so older need.

‘Violence and ruin’, declaims Jeremiah. Jesus makes clear to his disciples that he was destined for suffering and death in Jerusalem. Peter remonstrates: Heaven preserve you Lord, this must not happen to you. Meaning really, ‘Just in case it happens to me too’.

Jesus lays it on the line for his would-be followers. If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me.

St Paul reinforces this in the second reading from his letter to the Romans: think of God’s mercy, my brothers and worship him, I beg you, in a way that is worthy of thinking beings, by offering your living bodies as a holy sacrifice, truly pleasing to God.

Perhaps this can happen only if like Jeremiah, we can allow ourselves to be seduced by the Lord. This is the same God for whom the Psalmist longs. ‘O God, you are my God, for you I long; for you my soul is thirsting. There is something in the human condition that leads us out beyond ourselves. Hence the prayer of the Alleluia ‘May the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ enlighten the eyes of our mind, so that we can see what hope his call holds for us.’ This hope resides in the last part of the Jesus prediction of his passion that is ‘to be raised up on the third day’. Without his passion and death, there can be no Resurrection. Jesus is preserved in the here-and -now. We can never move beyond this in our lives. This way of thinking is man’s and not God’s way. Thus anyone who wants to save his life this way will ultimately lose it.

Peter is tempted, as on the Mount of the Transformation, to see things in the wonder of the present moment. It may be good for us to be here, but we must move on to greater, better and higher things. As Paul tells us; let your behaviour change, modelled by your new mind. This is the only way to discern the will of God and know what is God, what it is that God wants and what is the perfect thing to do.

So out of the apparently grim and forbidding message of today’s readings comes a real hope and sense of renewal and resurrection even for oldies and not-so-oldies like me.

God does not reject us when we get things wrong .Witness Peter in today’s Gospel reading. In the previous week’s Gospel, he gets it right: you are the Christ, the Son of the living God. Even after he denies the same Christ thrice, he is accepted back three times in St John’s Gospel, and is entrusted with the feeding of Christ’s flock, just as he was given the power of the keys to bind and loose on Earth and in Heaven in the Gospel of St Matthew.

Our faith and prayer is that we are also chosen by God to bear witness to Christ in our place and in our time. We may not have to suffer actual crucifixion, like Peter, but such witness will involve the bearing of our own crosses, which popular tradition holds that we will not to have to seek! Thus we enter into the struggle in the solidarity of our common humanity, with the power for transformation through the Death and Resurrection of our brother Jesus who has gone before us.

Readings: Jeremiah 20:7-9|Romans 12:1-2|Matthew 16:21-27

fr Aelred Connelly is a member of the house of St Albert the Great, Edinburgh, and is chaplain to a Young Offenders' Institution.