Francis J. Doyle, O.S.A.
Blessed Stephen Bellesini Friary
Jer 20: 7-9
Ps 63: 2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
Rom 12: 1-2
Mt 16: 21-27
Almost daily we receive solicitations in the press and social media “to get behind” some movement or cause, asking us to sign a petition or to volunteer to further a work of justice, peace, and charity. In today’s gospel we hear Jesus rather sharply say to his friend Peter to “get behind” him but in a very different sense.
“Get behind me, Satan” Jesus said to the brash apostle Peter who didn’t want anyone to harm or threaten Jesus in any way. Jesus was attempting to forewarn Peter and the other disciples that there were some very challenging days ahead for him as part of God’s plan. That would be the case as well for all those who would choose to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. Peter, who would become the “rock” upon which Jesus would establish the Church, was becoming a stumbling block to the mission that God had given Jesus. He wasn’t thinking as God does but simply as humans think. Peter had recently declared Jesus to be the Messiah but at that point he had a very limited idea of what that statement truly meant. Peter wanted to take Jesus aside and speak with him. It was Jesus who would take Peter aside and speak to him. This interchange between Jesus and Peter revealed that Peter had not yet come to know what discipleship truly entailed. Suffering that would end in a humiliating death was not Peter’s understanding of a Messiah.
Perhaps we can grasp then another way of hearing Jesus’ statement to get behind him. “Get behind me” could also be heard as an invitation to follow, to follow behind Jesus and like him to surrender to the will of God and God’s saving plan. This surrender would include suffering and self-denial, acceptance of the cross, and a mindful following in Jesus’ footsteps, all for the sake of the Kingdom that Jesus had come to establish.
The words of the prophet Jeremiah proclaimed for us today reveal a very personal relationship that Jeremiah had with God. So close was he to God that he couldn’t help but speak the word of God. It was like a fire burning in his heart so much so that no matter what the personal price he had to endure, he could not keep silent and would accept the consequences. He felt the love of God so deeply that it was Love that enabled him to accept the will of God and the role he was to play in God’s plan. St. Paul too would hear that call to love as he had been loved. His life became a living sacrifice, a life lived out in service as “spiritual worship” as we heard him say in today reading.
We celebrate this Labor Day weekend to recognize and honor the social and economic achievements of American workers. It is a tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. St. Paul’s words remind us of the effort that we are to make in all that we do, and especially in the workplace, to further God’s plan for the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of justice and human dignity.
To pray as Jesus did in the garden before his death, “not my will, but yours, O God” requires so much of us, as it did Jeremiah, Paul, and Jesus. There’s no mistake about it. Jesus minces no words. He asks us to find our place in line behind them all, acknowledging our struggles to accept the cross and the plan of God in our lives. On this weekend, in particular, we place the needs and rights of workers before God. As the saying goes, let us pray as if everything depended on God and do our work as if everything depended on us.