Welcome back to the Sunday Mass notes for 8-31-2014. This week we open with a comprehensive introduction to the Prophet Jeremiah and a reading from this great prophet of God in whom we find many similarities to Peter and Paul. Then move to the second reading from Saint Paul from Romans 12 in which he warns about not being conformed to the world. Finally we conclude with the Gospel lesson from Matthew in which we see a certain circumstance in which Peter found himself conformed to a false belief taught by the world.
The first reading is from the Prophet Jeremiah. Known as the “weeping prophet,” Jeremiah was one of the most prolific prophetic writers in the Old Testament having written both the Book by his name as well as Lamentations. He began writing during the reign of godly King Josiah beginning in 627 BC and continued during the eventual destruction of Jerusalem in 586 by the Babylonians. A key verse that summarizes the situation in Israel during this time is found in the closing chapter of the Book. “For through the anger of the LORD this came about in Jerusalem and Judah until He cast them out from His presence. And Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon” (Jeremiah 52:3)
God was angry with the people for a variety of reasons, but foremost among them was that they had turned away from their worship of the One True God and instead worshiped dead idols. Female deities were frequent objects of worship in the Old Testament. For example, God said:
“Do you not see what they are doing in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead dough to make cakes for the queen of heaven; and they pour out drink offerings to other gods in order to spite Me” (Jeremiah 7:17-18).
God was angry with them because they were baking cakes and offering cakes to the “queen of heaven,” who was the female deity of their day. This goddess was likely someone associated with grace and blessing. The Scripture is clear that all grace flows through the Lord Jesus Christ alone. “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). God was clear that worship was to be given to Him alone. The Jews were commanded not only to forsake worship of foreign gods but also not to even create an image of any deity, be it of the True or God or any god. Interestingly enough, this law was binding upon them and all New Testament believers (see John 14:15, this goes beyond the Ten Commandments as in John 13:34). As well worshiping an image they were not to even create an image of even the True God and assign worship to it in any manner. God knew that when they built something to honor Him that they would fall into worship of the image and not God Himself. The Second Commandment given by God to Moses spelled this out very clearly to them:
2 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 3 You shall have no other gods before Me. 4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. (Exodus 20:2-6)
If that were all that was going on then perhaps God would have relented in His judgment of them through allowing Babylon to overcome the nation and destroy Jerusalem. However, conditions in Israel were even worse than that as we see further on in Jeremiah Chapter 7:
30 “For the sons of Judah have done that which is evil in My sight,” declares the LORD, “they have set their detestable things in the house which is called by My name, to defile it. 31 They have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, and it did not come into My mind” (Jeremiah 7:30-31).
Not only did they offer sacrifices in the temple to false gods, they even sacrificed their own children in a fire. This was the context of the first reading today. As you read, try to imagine the anguish that Jeremiah must have been experiencing because of the extreme misbehavior of God’s chosen people.
7 O LORD, You have deceived me and I was deceived; You have overcome me and prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all day long; Everyone mocks me. 8 For each time I speak, I cry aloud; I proclaim violence and destruction, Because for me the word of the LORD has resulted In reproach and derision all day long. 9 But if I say, “I will not remember Him Or speak anymore in His name,” Then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire Shut up in my bones; And I am weary of holding it in, And I cannot endure it. (Jeremiah 20:7-9)
In the reading and in light of the context we see the passion of the Prophet Jeremiah in pleading with the Jewish people to repent of their sin and turn to the worship of the True God as prescribed in their Law. Jeremiah said that the people derided him in spite of the fact that what he was telling them was the truth and was for their own good (vv. 7-8). He said that it was impossible for him to contain within himself the words which the Lord God has given to him to proclaim. Later in the Gospel lesson we will see the similarity between Jeremiah and the Apostle Peter in his passion for God.
The second reading comes from Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans. In this passage, he is encouraging the believers to respond to God with their whole lives:
1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)
Paul begins his thought with the word “therefore.” Whenever we see this word, we should ask: “what’s the ‘therefore’ there for?” Paul gives some pretty heavy directions to the believers, but it is based in the reality of who God is, which he has spent the last 11 chapters talking about.
As you may recall from previous weeks, Paul was addressing both Jewish and Gentile believers in the church at Rome. He just finished expounding on the mysteries of God, who in his kindness has grafted Gentiles into the true vine of faith. This is truly a wonderful chapter in salvation history, deliverance from God’s wrath has been paid in full by Jesus Christ’s death on the cross. That is the basis of the “therefore”. So this is what Paul is saying: as a result of God’s mercies, it is only fitting to respond to Him with our whole lives; body mind, and spirit.
Have you ever seen people who profess to be Christians, but only act like it when they are at church or around other Christians? Then you see them at work or at a gathering acting in ways that are contrary to the way of Christ. They may using foul language, mistreating a waitress, or even cheating in order to get ahead. This is problematic because it is inconsistent with the reality of God’s mercy in their life. Paul says in this passage that Christianity is a wholistic endeavor. God is looking for true worship. We cannot compartmentalize our spirituality to one day a week or around certain spiritual activities. All of life can be a spiritual endeavor if we give ourselves fully to God as a living sacrifice. God is worthy of our bodies being submitted to Him, that includes our behaviors, actions and what comes out of our mouths.
What are we sacrificing? We are sacrificing doing things according to the “flesh” which Paul likens to the worldly system that has infected every fiber of our being. The world’s way operates according to doing what is right in our own eyes, without considering God and His ways. The world’s way operates without God in the center. So Paul is urging his brothers (both Jew and Gentile) to not be squeezed into that dead end mold. Yes, it may feel like a sacrifice to put God at the center of your life, but it is what each person was designed for.
How do we get there? By the renewing of our mind. What does this mean? Our minds have been shaped by so many things: our family values, our cultural values, messages from the media, our experiences and how we have interpreted those experiences. Paul urges believers to be proactive about understanding what influences your perspective—and to exchange what has held you captive by lies for the freedom of the Truth. We know that the only reliable source of Truth is founded upon and consistent with the Bible. Jesus said “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). In context, He was pointing to Himself as the truth and to holding to His teaching as the only form of freedom from being captive to the lies of the enemy (satan). So the only real “sacrifice” in this passage of Romans is giving up the destructive lies in one’s life and learning to live according to the Truth. That is why studying the Bible, hearing God’s heart by biblical teachers and being around others who walk according to the Word of God is so important for our minds to be renewed. It may feel like we are swimming upstream at first, but God will slowly and surely renew our minds so that we will see that His will is good, pleasing and perfect. Paul urges his brothers and us, because he knows it a matter of life and death.
Next week we will be covering a portion of Romans chapter 13. Let’s finish reading the rest of chapter 12 so you have this as context for the upcoming week:
3 For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. 4 For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; 7 if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; 8 or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. 9 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; 11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, 13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. 17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. 20 “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:3-21)
As we move onto the Gospel lesson let’s and reflect upon what we learned from the first reading. Jeremiah’s passion reminds us of one particular character in the New Testament. Whom jumps out at you as the one filled with passion for his people, one who sometime acted impulsively without regard for who those around him would respond? Cephas, whose name is translated as “Peter” (John 1:42), whose brother was the disciple Andrew, was just such as man. In his second Epistle, Peter spoke similar harsh words about the false teachers of his day:
1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. 2 Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; 3 and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. 4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; 5 and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; 6 and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter; 7 and if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men 8 (for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day by their lawless deeds), 9 then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, 10 and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority. Daring, self-willed, they do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties, 11 whereas angels who are greater in might and power do not bring a reviling judgment against them before the Lord. 12 But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed, 13 suffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong. They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are stains and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you, 14 having eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children; 15 forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; 16 but he received a rebuke for his own transgression, for a mute donkey, speaking with a voice of a man, restrained the madness of the prophet. 17 These are springs without water and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved. 18 For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, 19 promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved. 20 For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. 22 It has happened to them according to the true proverb, “A DOG RETURNS TO ITS OWN VOMIT,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.” (2 Peter 2:1-22)
I, like Peter, also have a passion for confronting false teaching. Some time ago a group of Jehovah’s witnesses pulled up to my parent’s house while I was visiting there one weekend. I knew how their operation worked, as only one of them got out of the car and the other two also recorded their “credit” for having made a household visit. I sensed in my spirit what was happening and I began to pray silently for God’s guidance. As the man sat down at the picnic table outside I just happened to have a Bible ready along with a sheet of paper blank on at least one side. I drew three columns on the paper with a horizontal heading across each section to serve later as a title for each category. As we talked I began to fill in important details about the Person of Jesus Christ in each of the three columns. I filled out the columns like this and explained the biblical support for the first column.
created by Jehovah
created by Jehovah
uncreated always existed
maker or all other things
maker of some things
God in the flesh
Michael the archangel
spirit brother of an angel called Lucifer
As we talked, the man began getting more agitated as he realized that his theological beliefs aligned with both the second and the third columns. I kept asking him, do you know anything about the religious cult about whom I am writing in that last column? The crowning blow came when I filled in titles for each of the categories:
created by Jehovah
created by God
uncreated always existed and made all things
maker or all other things
maker of all things in partnership with God
God in the flesh
Michael the archangel
spirit brother of an angel called Lucifer
Suddenly the man stood up in a rage just at the exact time that my sister decided to stop by for a visit as she saw me sitting outside at the table. As I attempted to introduce my sister to him, the man screamed some obscenities at me and my sister and ran towards his car. I wonder what kind of call report he wrote down that day (follow this link to see their blank form)!
Many of us can relate to Saint Peter. Of all of the disciples, Peter is the one with whom I most identify. In contrast to the loving and thoughtful Saint John, some of us are impulsive in our reactions and responses, especially in situations in which we feel the Lord Jesus has been disrespected. Peter like the Prophet Jeremiah, was a man of passion, the first of whom Jesus entrusted the “keys of the kingdom.” Even Peter, the foremost of the disciples, was at least one time overcome by the forces of evil that raged especially violently during the period of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Satan would stop at nothing to derail Jesus’ ministry, even if he likely didn’t understand all of the implications of Jesus’ prediction of His own death. Matthew recorded the following incident which is the Gospel reading for today.
21 From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. 22 Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.” 23 But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” 24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. 25 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and WILL THEN REPAY EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS.” (Matthew 16:21-27)
Peter, like many of us, was impulsive and frequently acted first and too stock of his actions later. After having spent the better part of three years, he was obviously upset that anyone would harm Jesus, especially the chief priests and scribes. He was clearly the leader of the group of twelve disciples and the first one and a representative of all twelve to whom were later given the “keys of the kingdom,” meaning that He entrusted them with the dispersion of the Gospel message to the world. His main role was as a witness to the Jews (Galatians 2:8). Sometimes called the “first among equals,” he played a leading role in the early church as can be seen in Acts Chapter 1 when he was the first to gather the ten remaining disciples in order to replace Judas Iscariot the traitor. Peter, whose heart was changed by the Holy Spirit, was the first of the disciples to confess Jesus as the Messiah (Matthew 16:16-18). He was called a “pillar of the church” in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians (Galatians 2:9) and acted as the de facto spokesman of the disciples (see Matthew 15:15, 18:21, 19:27, Mark 11:21, etc.). Peter’s modus operando may have been something that those of us partial dyslexics can relate, “durry up and hoo something.” Peter couldn’t bear the thought of losing his best friend and ministry partner for whom he had dedicated his life the past several years. Peter, like Jeremiah and Jesus, had also suffered from the constant persecution of the scribes and Pharisees, and one can only imagine his anger when he was told that these nemesis would kill his Messiah!
Yes, the purposes of God had to be fulfilled through Jesus offering Himself as a Savior for our sins. Peter, who was overcome both with his passion and love of Jesus, was as Jesus said, also influenced by the Father of Lies (v. 23). The time of Jesus ministry was an era of extreme demonic activity. Almost a dozen times in the Gospels Jesus was confronted by a demon possessed person and cast it out of them (for example Matthew 9:33, Mark 7:26, Luke 4:33). Our enemy the devil seems to have a lot of capabilities, but we know for certain that Peter wasn’t in any way “possessed by a demon.” No, what happened in this incident was that Peter simply repeated a mantra that was implanted in the world by the father of the world (2 Corinthians 4:4), the father of lies (John 8:44), Satan, the devil himself. This lie was the Messiah would come and set up his eternal kingdom without the need for anyone to deal with their sin, either in a personal or corporal sense for all of Israel. The people of the god of this age (2 Corinthians 4:4) saw no need to humble themselves before God, repent of their sins, and allow God to give His life as the perfect, once for all sacrifice of sin forever (Hebrews 10:14). For a very brief instant Peter was conformed to this world, just as Paul warned about in the second reading from Romans.
What does all of this mean in our lives? First, how have we responded to God’s prophetic word? Have we like Jeremiah taken the Word and given it to others in order to watch the works of God unfold in their lives? Second, have we taken the Word into our own hearts and allowed God to transform us in such a way as Paul stated in the second reading? Are we offering our bodies as living sacrifices, something with which Jeremiah, Peter, and Paul have firmly conformed? Finally, what lies is our culture telling us today? What lies would we, like Peter, repeat in an instant when suddenly confronted with something that went against the world’s teachings? What would be our reaction when invited to the wedding of a gay friend, how would we respond to the questions of the deacon board about our action in response to this event? Is it acceptable to love the sinner but hate the sin? These are things which we must reason with in advance such that when the sudden circumstance arises we are as Saint Peter said, ready to give a response” (1 Peter 3:15).
Bottom Line: Questions for Reflection
1. In the Gospel lesson we saw how Peter impulsively responded to Jesus’ prophecy concerning His coming death, burial, and resurrection. Think back to a time when you found yourself in a situation in which your faith was challenged and you responded impulsively without thinking about all of the implications of your actions. In light of the Gospel reading what could you learn from Peter and Jesus in terms of how to respond in the future?
2. Review the past few weeks of your life. In what ways have you been tempted to be conformed to the pattern of this world? What lie is behind the temptation? What truth can you hold onto to help you to be faithful to God in the midst of ongoing temptation? If you are not sure how to answer these questions, pray to God right now and ask Him to open your eyes to the deceptive nature of sin and help you to be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Note: For a listing of readings for the Roman Catholic Mass visit this web site: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/083114.cfm
First Reading JER 20:7-9
Second Reading ROM 12:1-2
Gospel Reading MT 16:21-27
Online Scripture verses for most Bible versions can be found at: http://www.biblegateway.com/