THE LORD IS WITH ME LIKE A MIGHTY CHAMPION

Catholic Homily / Sunday Reflection / Gospel Reflection
12th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year A
June 22, 2008

All three readings, on close examination, strike very, very close to home base. They all speak of struggle. And they all sound so reassuring. They all refer to a God who inspires so much confidence, so like the God we spoke of last Trinity Sunday: gracious and merciful; slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.

To Him, we cry out today, led as much by human desperation, as by utter confidence and divine faith: LORD, IN YOUR GREAT LOVE, ANSWER ME.

Who among us, in those quiet, desperate moments, at some time or other in our lives, have not identified with the psalmist who cries out to the Lord almost desperately? The pleading itself reflects a struggle deep within. The plea speaks of a person torn between despairing, and claiming that which he or she knows God has the power to give, or withhold.

Who among us, in the midst of so many trials, caught between the Scylla and Charybdis of holding on, on the one hand, and letting go and giving up, on the other, have not given utterance to a prayer so passionate, so filled with deep, overwhelming – if, confusing - emotions?

Let us look at some of the struggles the readings speak of today. Take Jeremiah, for one…a person who current mass media would most likely play up as a “controversial” figure. No, he was not just caught up in controversy and that all-too-common “intrigue” we read almost daily about people in show biz. He was ensnared in deadly hostility! People plotted conspiracies against his life right in his own hometown (Anathoth)! He was confined in the stocks in the temple. He was tried for blasphemy…all on account of his telling the truth, his prophesying, his speaking on God’s behalf.

And then, there is Paul who speaks of the ultimate struggle. Sin – and death in its tow, on the one hand, and grace – and life in its fullness, on the other. Death came through one man, Adam. And grace that upturned the tables downright, grace that superabounded all the more, came through Jesus Christ, himself no stranger to struggle.

Indeed, from first-hand experience, the Lord talks about similar struggles in the Gospel passage of today. “And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.”(Mt 10:28) From the mouth of him who went through so much struggle, who suffered so much opposition, we hear reassuring words: “Even all the hairs of your head are counted.” (Mt 10:30)

Jeremiah certainly had a tough time as a prophet. He tells us so himself. The anguish and the pain that ooze out of every line he wrote are paralleled and surpassed only by the other Jeremiah the former foreshadowed – Jesus Christ.

If only for this honesty and steadfastness in the Lord despite the painful struggles, Jeremiah is worth emulating. He is one Old Testament saint that transcends time and really stands close to our daily experience, mine included. Back in the day, I had in my office a framed reproduction of a famous Dutch painter’s rendition of Jeremiah during his famous lamentations. When I saw the original at Amsterdam’s RIJKSMUSEUM, I knew I had to have a copy. I did find one. In my most down and out moments, particularly of late when, rightly or wrongly, I felt not listened to, and, at times, even sort of cast aside for good riddance, Van Rijn’s Jeremiah was enough to tide me over, enough to remind me that there is indeed, cause to sing, even when there is simply no rhyme and reason to it all. It has become “like fire burning in my heart;” and together with Paul and Jesus Christ, there is reason to utter, as only one who has been through pain, like Jeremiah can: “Sing to the LORD, praise the LORD, for he has rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked!” (Jer 20:13

My experience and yours, I am sure, show that present struggles, at least for the most part, do not disappear just because we join the league of Jeremiah, Paul and Jesus Christ. But I can tell you one sure thing. There is reason to sing, for connectivity with one who assures us of peace, even as he himself is deep into the same struggles, has given – and, indeed, gives meaning to the very struggles we are experiencing. “Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father's knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Mt 10:29-31) This is the sort of peace that comes with the assurance you are never insignificant in God’s eyes. This is the kind of peace that accrues from the conviction that, no matter the seeming non-acceptance, the ungratefulness, and others’ unacknowledged negative emotions being dumped unfairly on you, the Lord, after all, is with you, like a mighty champion.

Jeremiah’s prophetic insight is a good one to keep constantly in mind. His saintly courage, persistence, patience and perseverance despite all the odds reflective of all that Jesus Himself underwent, who, “for my sake sufferedst nails and lance, mocked and marred countenance, sorrows passing number, sweat and care and cumber,” (Hopkins, O Deus, Ego Amo Te!) is enough to give rhyme and reason to it all. Ultimately, his love is behind all this newfound capacity for spiritual resiliency to suffering. I share with you Gerard Manley Hopkins’ translation of the hymn I partly quoted above:

O God, I love thee, I love thee –
Not out of hope of heaven for me
Nor fearing not to love and be
In the everlasting burning.
Thou, Thou, my Jesus, after me
Didst reach thine arms out dying,
For my sake sufferedst nails and lance,
Mocked and marred countenance,
Sorrows passing number,
Sweat and care and cumber,
Yea and death, and this for me,
And thou couldst see me sinning:
Then I, why should not I love thee,
Jesu so much in love with me?
Not for heaven’s sake; not to be
Out of hell by loving thee;
Not for any gains I see;
But just the way that thou didst me
I do love and I will love thee:
What must I love thee, Lord, for then? –
For being my king and God. Amen.

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