Protect us from false words of reassurance

Kathleen Giffin


22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – August 31, 2014
Jeremiah 20.7-9 | Psalm 63 | Romans 12.1-2 | Matthew 16.21-27
August 25, 2014

This Sunday's Gospel contains Matthew's account of one of Peter's famous stumbles. Jesus had revealed the great events that lay before him, that it was soon time for him to go up to Jerusalem and undergo his suffering, death and resurrection.

Peter is scandalized by those words and says to Jesus, "God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you."

It is easy to relate to Peter in that moment, he has a picture in his mind of what it should be like, and it doesn't include the apparent defeat and futility of suffering and death. It doesn't include the powerlessness of being given over to those who would abuse.

So Peter thinks he's keeping things on track; maybe he even thinks he is speaking for God when he corrects Jesus.

There is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones. - Jeremiah 20.7

'There is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones.'

Jeremiah 20.7

Contrast Peter's words with Jeremiah's lament. The prophet has not had an easy time in his role as God's spokesman. He complains that God enticed him, overpowered him and prevailed. He thus became a laughingstock to the people, mocked by all because he cries out, "Violence and destruction."

He tries to be silent; he doesn't want to be the one who speaks those words, but "then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot."

The words that Jeremiah spoke on behalf of God are neither the result of Jeremiah's thoughtful consideration of what is best, nor are they intended to make people feel better. He simply is compelled to proclaim the message he was given and cannot be silent.

Endless examples come to mind of well-meaning people saying the words that are intended to reassure, spoken as though they come from God but distracting from what God is actually doing in that moment.

"God must have wanted another little angel in heaven" when the child died. "God wants you to be happy" when struggling with the decision to end a marriage. "God knew you can handle this, that's why he's given you this burden" when undergoing great suffering. We risk much when we presume to speak for God.


Jesus did not have patience with Peter's careless words; he called him a stumbling block and told him he was thinking like man, and not like God.

Paul uses different language to

describe that state, "conformed to this world" and in need of the renewal of the mind so that he could discern what is the will of God. Paul is pointing again to the change that must happen for each of the believers, the change that accompanies our surrender to God, our gift of self to God that Jesus commands: Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.

The Gospel passage reminds us that when Jesus returns we will each of us be repaid according to our work. Our work is this: to be given over into the hands of God, for him to work in us and through us as he wills.

(Kathleen Giffin