Father Donald Senior, CP

Sept. 3: 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Jer 20:7-9; Ps 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9; Rom 12:1-2; Mt 16:21-27

I happen to serve on a committee formed by the Catholic Biblical Association to review the New American Bible translation. The current translation is a very good one but the U.S. bishops asked the association to make some adjustments, especially to enhance the use of this translation in our liturgy. 

One of the challenges of any modern biblical translation is how to make the text as inclusive as possible, while respecting the original biblical language. When we came to reviewing the passage we have this Sunday, especially Jesus’ words “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” we ran right into one of these linguistic dilemmas. The original Greek uses the masculine singular but obviously this saying of Jesus is for all who wish to follow Jesus.

One of our group, struck by this dilemma, suggested we should petition to have this saying of Jesus reframed into the plural, i.e., “Whoever wish to save their lives…” Why? Because, he said, this was one of the most important sayings of Jesus in all of the New Testament. 

We don’t know yet if this change will be accepted since the work is still in progress but I was struck by what my colleague said. This is one of the most fundamental statements of Jesus about what following him means. 

The basic teaching has a number of different expressions in the Gospels. For example, “take up one’s cross and follow me”; “what profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?”; or, in the Gospel of John, Jesus’ saying about the seed having to fall into the ground and die so it can bear much fruit.
What Jesus is teaching his dumbstruck disciples is the great paradox of human experience. We, of course, care about and cherish our own lives, but the truth is our lives flourish to the degree that we learn to reach out beyond ourselves in love and concern for others.  

Those who are only concerned about “saving” their own lives or who are so wrapped up in their own egos they don’t have time for others, are people whose growth as genuine human beings is stunted. This is what Jesus is trying to teach his disciples in our Gospel passage this Sunday.  

Jesus’ generosity of life and abundance of love was so intense that he was willing to give his life completely for others. This is what “taking up his cross” meant.
In the opening section of his beautiful exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis makes this very point. The heart of Christian life is our encounter with Jesus. In that encounter, we discover that Jesus is love personified. Jesus is the embodiment of the totally generous and unconditional love of God for us.

The pope goes on to write that in discovering this central reality of the Christian faith we also come to understand the deepest reality of human life. We find true happiness and human flourishing to the extent that we, too, reach out in love of others. 

In his words, “Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort. Indeed, those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others.” 

The reaction of Peter and the other disciples who have difficulty understanding or accepting this teaching of Jesus reminds us that while this ideal at the heart of the Gospel may seem attractive, it is, at the same time, demanding and requires lifelong commitment. 

As spouses know, sustaining mutual love over the long haul is not easy. Nor it is so easy sometimes to reach out in love to a sullen teenage child. Nor is it easy on a wider social basis for we as citizens to reach beyond our own concerns and care about the well-being of strangers. But, Jesus tells us, in so “losing” our life we find it.