Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

All too often, we hear news reports of another tragedy.  Plane crashes, shootings, natural disasters which have abruptly brought death and destruction to unsuspecting victims.  Tragedy is the only word that can express the shock and helpless we feel.  It need not have happened. It is an unfair and unjust violation of normal expectancy and order.  At the same time, it reveals the fragility and uncertainty that threaten the fabric of our lives.  The world is not so benign and friendly as we might hope.  We are aware of a commonality with those who suffer tragedy.  There but for the grace of God.

Dramatists have made us look more closely at the presence of tragedy in human life.  Shakespeare, Sophocles, Chekov, and Miller have presented us with noble and sympathetic persons we can identify with or at least admire.  These characters have made a choice which has sown the seeds of their own destruction in their hearts.  They have set themselves on a trajectory that can only end badly. It need not have  happened, but they have become identified with a willfulness that seeks to defy the powers of the fates.  They have overstepped their limits out of hybris and self-inflation and have violated the powers which rule the cosmos.

Jesus could seem to be a tragic figure, compulsively following a path which will lead to his suffering and death.  He clearly sees what is going to happen.  He could act otherwise.  Peter is the voice of reason and prudence: God forbid, Lord. No such thing shall ever happen to you.  He is the voice of Satan. Get behind me, Satan.  He is the voice of willful compromise with the ethos of powers that maintain a normal balance of compliance and subjection to the fates.  You may not gain the whole world, but enough of it to get by.  The fates are always willing to bargain with you.  Just keep your personal beliefs out of the public forum.

But Jesus lived his personal beliefs and obedience to the Father in a very public way.  This constantly brought him into conflict with those who had made their peace  and pacts with the fates and principalities and powers.  His suffering and death were inevitable because his life and beliefs undermined what was deemed possible. He represented a vastly alternate world and vision.  The word of the Lord has brought me derision and reproach.  It becomes like fire, burning in my heart.  Herbert McCabe, the late English Dominican theologian, has said that to be alive, you must love, must find yourself in giving and serving others.  But if you love, you will be killed.  The normal world runs on other principles of greed,  money, power, status.  It is overturned and stalls when love is the ruling principle.  The incarnation of the Father’s love is seen as a hostile enemy.  The must of Jesus’ life is the burning love which he brings and defeats the powers of evil in their stronghold: suffering and death.  These are no longer weapons of evil and the fates, but can now be expressions of love.  The suffering and death of Jesus are tragedies only for sin and death.

We are called to enter this new world opened to us through the cross.  We are to be transformed by the renewal of our minds which have been overpowered and seduced by the love of Christ.  We are invited to surrender our self-separateness and immerse ourselves in the deepest drama of life. This is an invitation to our freedom.  Whoever wishes to come after me.  Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it.  Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  Love will take us on a journey of service and sacrifice.  Offer your bodies (the wholeness of your immediate present) as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.