22nd Sunday Year A
Sunday 3rd September 2023
The Gospel Paraphrased
There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.
This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased
From that time on Jesus taught the disciples that it was essential that he should go to Jerusalem and suffer so terribly at the hands of the religious leaders that he would end up being killed but he would rise three days later.
Peter took hold of him and reprimanded him, ‘God forbid! No way – that’s not happening to you! But Jesus turned on him, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a temptation, a scandal to me. You don’t understand the ways of God but think just like a mere human.
Then Jesus said to his disciples. ‘Those who want to follow behind me as disciples must renounce their selves, take up their own individual cross and follow after me.’
‘For those who are concerned only about their earthly existence will end up destroying their true life. But those who realise that the demands of true life mean death to ‘self’ will come to the fullness of life. What’s the benefit of gaining the entire world and its luxuries and losing one’s true life? Ask yourselves just what are you prepared to offer in exchange for the fullness of life?
‘The Son of Man will come in the glory of the Father, surrounded by all his angels and he will give to each person according to the way he or she has lived their life.’
The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.
This Sunday's Psalm
Ps 62: 2-6, 8-9
You, God are my God, my deepest desire.
Even in the midst of dryness and aridity,
my soul thirsts for you,
my flesh craves for you.
I look to your dwelling,
for your strength and your glory
Your kindness and love are better than life itself,
they lead me to praise you.
Your blessings are life for me,
your name the ground of my prayer.
You will richly fill my soul
so I sing in heartfelt prayer.
You have helped me.
Wrapt in your embrace I am full of joy.
My soul clings to you,
for your strength upholds me.
Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.
This Sunday's Prayer
Loving God, we have heard the call of Jesus to take up our cross and follow after him. Give us the wisdom of your Spirit to recognise our cross, the strength of the Spirit to carry that cross and the love of the Spirit to radiate your love in service. We ask this in Jesus’ name, confident that you will hear us.
The Commentaries Summarised
As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.
This Sunday's Commentary
The reading for this Sunday’s Gospel should be read as a continuation on from last Sunday’s Gospel. The revelation given to Peter of Jesus’ identity is to be understood through the lens of his mission: salvation offered through his death and resurrection. This is the essential teaching that Jesus wishes to give his disciples as he forms them into his church.
The reaction of Peter to the teaching of Jesus’ death is not only the natural reaction to suffering but also comes from his conventional understanding of the Messiah: a glorious, powerful, political figure who would visibly bring about, in this world, the reign of God where sinners are punished and the righteous rewarded. Take our best ideas of good governance and a just society, multiply them by 100, then imagine a Godly person who could bring this about, and we have some idea of the ‘fine ideal’ that Peter had in mind.
Jesus treats this as temptation. The temptation with such ‘fine ideals’ is that they are usually imposed and not offered to people to choose freely with their will. Earlier in the desert, Satan had tempted Jesus to be just this type of Messiah: a Saviour who uses bread, circuses and power to impose the rule of God. Jesus will not be a Saviour who takes us out of the broken, suffering reality in which we find ourselves by any other means than the free embrace of God’s grace. This often means that God works through difficult and painful situations to bring us to the fullness of life.
The word for ‘life’ that is used here has two meanings and Jesus plays on the difference between them. ‘Life’ can mean just our earthly span of existence or it can mean that spirit within us that will live beyond the grave into eternal life. Today we would use the terms ‘false self’ and ‘true self’. Too well we know how the impulsive selfish desires of the false self undermine our life of faith and true human growth. Jesus here challenges us to seriously consider the values we live by and ask ourselves what type of person we are becoming.
Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.
This Sunday's Exposition
We are slow learners. No matter how great the insight we may receive from God, we receive it according to the understanding and experience that we have at the time…and often we get it wrong. Like Peter, God’s grace may enlighten our minds and hearts…but also like Peter, our understanding of what we have received will often be inadequate, even faulty and God may have to use life’s experience and the wisdom of others to bring us to a truer understanding of the graces we have received.
Peter was given an extraordinary grace and he misunderstood it. He interpreted what he had been given according to the accepted understanding of ‘Messiah’. God did not then just swamp his understanding with the right interpretation of Messiah, seen as the Suffering Servant – that would not have respected the integrity of who Peter was. No, God used the teaching of Jesus, Peter’s experience of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the coming of the Spirit, indeed the rest of the events of Peter’s life to reveal to him the depths of the mystery that he had been called to serve.
At times, people have extraordinary insights into the mysteries of faith. Sometimes they are simple convictions that come in prayer. For others, it may even be marvellous mystical experiences. When these come we should treasure them and, feed on them, as it were to understand them more fully and to love God more dearly…but we should also be careful that we do not assume too easily that we have ‘the truth’, especially ‘the truth’ about how others should live. Like Peter we should allow Jesus’ teaching, the experience of Christian community and life’s experience to help us grow in understanding and wisdom about the insights we have received.
Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.
This Sunday's Reflection
I doubt that anyone reading this would plan ‘salvation’ in just the way that Jesus offers it to us. Our instinct is for a Saviour, great and glorious, that comes and takes from us our suffering, especially innocent, undeserved and useless suffering. We can accept, maybe grudgingly, pain we deserve because of our actions but the rest, especially of the weak and innocent, we find scandalous to watch, and incomprehensible to undergo.
In the salvation Jesus offers, the truly Innocent One accepts a shameful and ignominious death, rejected and abused by the people he loved so much. Peter well expressed our revulsion with such a way of salvation: ‘God forbid!’ But Jesus told him to get behind him and follow like a disciple. Jesus turned, faced and accepted his cross, so, as his disciples, we too must face the cross in our life. As we cling to our cross and bleed, our strength and consolation is that God, in the weakness of our humanity has gone before us making this painful, difficult, incomprehensible suffering the path to the fullness of divine life. We do not understand this but as we accept and undergo this path, some intimations of God’s wisdom are given to us: that God’s love and presence are revealed here; that salvation is offered as a free, undeserved gift to all; that God’s grace will work powerfully through the experience of weakness. But that understanding comes later, after we have accepted our cross and walked with our Saviour God. In the beginning, in our pain and confusion, we remain faithful to our cross because Jesus remains faithful to us.
Looking at art works or movies is a great way to open ourselves to the meaning of the Gospels. Seeing can bypass our preconceived notions, giving us new vistas of enlightenment. With painting or sculpture one needs to sit quietly and absorb the dynamics of the piece. The drama of movies more easily engages us and offers a way to conversation about the Gospel with other members of your family.
This Sunday's Visual Meditation
– This wood carving is on the Doors of Santa Sabina church on the Aventine Hill in Rome. It is not only the earliest depiction of Jesus’ crucifixion but of any crucifixion, anywhere. Note how the cross itself is not there, possibly showing how humiliating death by crucifixion was regarded by the artist.
– A woodcut by Johann Christian Weigel.
The purpose of mulling meditations is to offer a few ideas that one can mull about while doing other occupations. There are many things we do in our day that do not require our full attention - some things which are largely done on automatic pilot - like driving a car or peeling the potatoes. While we give these our attention, part of our mind is still at work mulling on other things and unless it is given something positive to feed on, we easily feed on negative thoughts. Personally I find mulling time the most likely time for God to get through to me. Because I am not so conscious of myself, God gets through the cracks and opens my heart to look at life differently.
Two practical times for mulling can be when exercising and when driving. Some small preparations for integrating such prayer into these exercises can be helpful.
As you do your preparatory stretches, pray the line of the Psalm "I praise you God for I am wonderfully made!"
Similarly when doing your concluding stretches use the prayer of St Clare "Praised be you, my God, for creating me!"
Have some music that you find helps you turn you mind and heart to God and play that for the first 10 minutes or so of your trip.
This Sunday's Mulling Meditation
As you go about your daily tasks, mull over the annoying things that happen to you and see how you can turn them into positive situations. Simple questions we can ask are:
– What is good about this situation?
– What can I learn here?
– What good can I do now?
Even the smallest ‘crosses’ can now, with God’s grace be turned into signs of glory.
In the Letter of James, we are told that the Scriptures are like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. In this type of meditation we take a piece of Scripture, hold it before us and consider what echoes within our heart. These echoes help us to see who we are before God and how we are loved. What usually echoes in us are situations that we are dealing with in our lives. When something strikes us, we do not actively try to solve the situation or work it through. Rather we sit holding it in God's love. The point of such a meditation is to make space within the situation for God's love to be. In 'sitting with' such a situation, painful or sad, we come to recognise the love of God that is at work on our lives. The suggestions for Mirror reflections can also be used for Exercise reflections but wouldn't be advised for Driving Prayer as often some degree of emotion or distraction might rise in such prayer.
This Sunday's Mirror Meditation
Rest quietly in the love of your God.
When you are at rest, consider the cross as it exists in your life at this moment. While we may have many minor difficulties in our day to day living, we all seem to have one or two major problems that we have to deal with through our life – maybe it is an addiction, a psychological failing, maybe a difficult marriage or family situation. Take one of these and pray over it with your God
Hold it gently in your hands and allow whatever grief you feel to rise up in your heart. Hold the grief between you and God and remain in God’s love. Resting there, try to see the grace that God wants to give you at this time. When this becomes clear, choose that grace. Now take up your cross and follow after Christ.
Rest quietly in the love of your God.