We are spirit and matter, and what really matters is the spirit. This is something the human race has been grappling with since its inception. Jeremiah and Job alike have addressed the issue, but it is only Jesus who provided the right answers, He who is the Way, the Truth and the Life!

The Book of Jeremiah, from which the First Reading (Jer 20: 7-9) is taken, catalogues the Prophet’s woes. It reads like a spiritual diary or confessions spanning the four decades (626 BC to 587 BC) of his prophetic tenure. He tells his countrymen in no uncertain terms that their Babylonic exile is a punishment, a consequence of their unfaithfulness by way of pagan worship.

But alas, none paid heed; they went on with their life, as though Jeremiah were a madman, a mere voice of dissent crying in the wilderness. This only goes to show that a man of God is not without his share of problems; he is at the receiving end of fellow humans and, at times, quite ironically, he feels forsaken even by God. Jeremiah was a man who cried his heart out, and is nicknamed ‘the Weeping Prophet’. For indeed, the greater his obedience to the task entrusted to him by God, the more he suffered.

You and I have also felt the same and in vain have we tried to make sense of it all, haven’t we? Oddly, Peter who had a little earlier recognised Jesus as the Messiah and Son of the Living God, is suddenly repulsed by the idea of His Master’s suffering and death – the first prediction of His Passion – much as you and I are baffled by those twin problems in our day and age. However, trust Jesus Christ to give us the right perspective. In today’s Gospel text (Mt 16: 21-27), He says: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (24-25)

The Jesuit Master and disciple

If back in Jesus’ time, his disciples stood bewildered, do you think that exhortation would go well with the materialistic world we live in today? Following Jesus is therefore no easy task – but, then, who on earth can give us a better way? It simply means we should be walking the proverbial narrow path – which is the only sure one after all! And to highlight his admonition, Jesus dismissed Peter as being a ‘tempter’, like Satan, a stumbling block on His path to the redeeming Cross. All that Peter should have done was faithfully followed the Master’s directives; and we too should, for the stakes are high, as famously expressed by Jesus: “For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?”

So, it’s clearly a choice between this life and the next, between temporary successes and eternal loss. Centuries later, the Divine Master’s life-giving rhetoric is said to have clinched Ignatius of Loyola’s conquest of Francis Xavier’s soul. While at the renowned Sorbonne in Paris, the Basque youth was deeply in love with life and knowledge; he aspired to rise and shine in a boundless world of scientific advances and geographical discoveries. New avenues of learning in the fields of philosophy, poetry, art, political science, and so on, fostered a humanist spirit at the same time as it changed man’s relationship with God.

We who have recently witnessed Chandrayaan and other success stories, are we going to be so completely taken up by earthly promises that we let them eclipse our resurrection story? Let us not give into a romantic idea of life and forget that suffering is for real, for whoever dodges it will regret their folly. As a faithful people of God, let us heed St Paul’s powerful appeal in the Second Reading (Rom 12: 1-2): “to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”

Whereas in Jeremiah’s time, the Jews were plagued by the Babylonians, in Jesus’ time it was the Romans that besieged them. On both occasions it was in retribution for pagan worship. And what of our time? Alas, we have embraced the ways of the world; we are ready to bow or bend over backwards to please earthly masters and idols. We have forgotten and offended God no end. Hence, the urgency of the Pauline call: “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” That is the Life in the Spirit beckoning us!

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