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Seduced by God

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)  |  Fr Matthew Jarvis contemplates the vulnerability of loving God and neighbour. 

God can seem so unscrupulous in his ways with us. The prophet Jeremiah complains, 'You have seduced me, Lord, and I have let myself be seduced’ (20:7, JB). Like a lover caught irresistibly by his own pathetic desire, Jeremiah admits he freely consented to God’s word. God has ‘seduced’ or ‘duped’ him, giving him a preaching mission that has brought nothing but misery upon him, ’terror on every side’ (v.10). Jeremiah might well plead, ‘Don’t shoot the messenger!’ But he has no option but to speak God’s word to his people. The truth, no matter how painful the consequences, must be spoken.

Like pitiful Job, Jeremiah will curse the day of his birth (vv.14-18) and yet refrain from condemning God himself. The true lover may complain about his suffering for love, but cannot bear to blame the beloved. So Jeremiah’s love is purer, perhaps, than the romantic passions expressed, for instance, by the Roman poet Catullus – odi et amo, 'I hate and I love' – even while the result is the same: ‘I feel it happening and I am in agony’ (Catullus 85). Or in Jeremiah’s vivid Biblical idiom: ‘There seemed to be a fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones' (v.9).

Certainly, God’s ways with his chosen messengers can seem like a lover’s tricks: now an impassioned overture, now the 'silent treatment', now (albeit so briefly) the tender communion of hearts. By hook or by crook, it seems, God wants to possess our hearts. As Chesterton’s Father Brown boasts, 'I caught him, with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world, and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread’. And to cap it all, God refuses to do this against our will, so that we have no final complaint: when we find ourselves touched by God’s word, we are willingly caught, we let ourselves be seduced.

Ultimately, God’s apparently tricksy ways are never truly deceptive. God cannot lie: ‘Truth himself speaks truly, or there’s nothing true’ (as Hopkins translates Aquinas). But while God is perfectly good, it can naturally appear to fickle folk that he is playing them at their own games – and beating them soundly. Take the Patristic picture of God’s fish-hook. In Gregory of Nyssa’s imaginative account, Christ’s humble humanity clothes his divine nature so that he can be bait for the Devil. At the crucifixion, the Devil believes he has won….. but instead he is hooked, unable to swallow the infinite divinity of Christ. So, in the liturgy we sing God’s praises: ‘With the sincere you show yourself sincere, but the cunning you outdo in cunning’ (Ps 17:27). This is the sort of apparent ‘craftiness' that is actually good, not wicked (Aquinas, ST 2a2ae.55.3.ad1).

Let’s not get carried away, however, and conclude we can redefine good and evil to suit our purposes. We must submit all to the purifying touch of God’s word. Christ warns Peter in today’s gospel: 'Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my path, because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s’ (Mt 16:23). Peter is horrified that the divine plan could include the suffering and death of the Messiah, because he cannot see that love is stronger than death, that the Cross leads to the Resurrection.

We too, like Peter and like Jeremiah, can easily object to God’s word in our lives. We shrink from the consequences of being truth-tellers and peace-makers in our violent and deceitful world. We would rather numb our hearts to the pain, than risk the vulnerability of loving God and neighbour and getting hurt.

But there’s nowhere to run from God’s love, his unscrupulous ‘unseen hook’. We, the beloved, may try to hide from our divine lover, but he will always be there. We may refuse to take up our cross, only to find him carrying it for us. We may refuse his seductive words, only to find our hearts burning within us, thirsting and pining for him, our true beloved who has already seduced us.

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

Photograph by Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P. of the embrace of St Bernard from the church of San Bernardo in Rome.

Fr Matthew Jarvis O.P.


Fr Matthew Jarvis is currently studying Patristics at the Catholic University of Lyon.



Anonymous commented on 01-Sep-2017 02:50 PM
Brilliant explanation. Thank-you
Anonymous commented on 02-Sep-2017 05:56 PM
Thank you for your clear explanation which even I can understand.
Daniel connor commented on 03-Sep-2017 11:41 AM
I like your style. Thank you

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