When good news/bad news do not matter at all

The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Week XXII, Cycle A in Ordinary Time, 30 August 2020
Jeremiah 20:7-9 >><}}}*>| + | >><}}}*> Romans 12:1-2 >><}}}*>| + | >><}}}*> Matthew 16:21-27
Photo by author, Caesarea Philippi, May 2019

Maybe you have been asked so many times with the question, which do you prefer to hear first, the good news or the bad news? Usually we say it all depends to our mood and temperament or to the gravity of the situation. Sometimes, we ask for the bad news first so we can suffer earlier and enjoy the good news later. Or, we ask for the good news first to soften the impact of the bad news.

Our gospel this Sunday is still set in the pagan city of Caesarea Philippi and we heard Jesus giving his disciples – including us – with a strong dosage of “bad news” after hearing last week the good news that he is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Matthew 16:21-25

Our gospel today seems to be a very big, bad news for everyone, with things getting worst before getting any better which the Lord had promised to be only in the end that nobody knows when!

See how Jesus started by saying he would “suffer greatly at the hands of elders, the chief priests, and the scribes and be killed and on the third day be raised again.” Not only that: he now calls Peter as “Satan” from being the Rock last Sunday after giving the right answer as to who he is.

Like Peter, we would probably say the same thing to Jesus why make suffering and death central to life that is meant to enjoy?

Like Peter, the Lord is inviting us today to focus more on the good news than on the bad news of suffering and death which for him – the Paschal mystery we call – is actually the best of good news!

Photo by author, altar flowers in our parish, January 2020.

Jesus Christ’s pasch is the best of good news!

What we have heard as “bad news” from the Lord is his first prediction of his coming pasch or Passion, Death and Resurrection. He would be announcing this prediction of his pasch two more times as they near Jerusalem.

From the He brew word pesach that means to pass over, it connotes suffering and death into new life. It came from the Exodus experience of the Chosen People from Egypt into the Promised Land during the time of Moses, taking its fullest meaning in Jesus Christ, the Son of God who became human like us in everything except sin, “passing over” from eternity to temporal, from Passion and Death to Resurrection.

Authentic discipleship does not require us to seek suffering; no, God is not sadistic as some people with twisted minds would say. However, being faithful to Jesus, witnessing his gospel values bring enough of these sufferings and deaths but on a different level and meaning. We realize that life is a daily exodus, a passing over from darkness into light, from ignorance into wisdom, from sickness into health, from death into new life.

Like the prophet Jeremiah in the first reading, we discover that the more we follow God, the more sufferings we encounter in life but at the same time, we cannot let go of him because his attraction is so powerful! There is something so deep within, so profound and fulfilling in us we realize that living in the ways of God, in the gospel values of Christ can we truly find lasting joy and peace – even if we have to die in our very selves in the process.

You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped; you were too strong for me, and you triumphed. all the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me… But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.

Jeremiah 20:7, 9
Photo by author, Gaudete Sunday in our parish, December 2019.

Thinking in God’s ways

Today Jesus is assuring us that there is no such thing as “good news, bad news” with him. The good news/bad news question is really a non-question to disciples of Christ because whatever suffering and death we embrace in him is a sharing in his very life.

Hence, Jesus Christ’s good news is in fact the bestest news we can ever have. Always.

The key is to think as God does, not as human beings do as Jesus pointed out to Peter.

Three things I wish to share with you about thinking in God’s ways:

First is to accept and embrace pains and sufferings not for their own sake but as a way to cleanse our selves to greater glory. As we have said, God is not a sadist; we need to be cleansed like every thing in order to bring out the best in us like diamonds or any precious stone or any material.

Polishing and honing always mean “subtractions” with so many shaving and cutting of the rough edges to bring out the beauty and sharpness of a thing.

Man’s ways has always been to avoid every pain and suffering. No wonder, the most prescribed medicine worldwide is said to be the pain killer. But, experience has taught us this is not true and cannot be the norm of life. Like every gym enthusiast would tell you, “no pain, no gain”. Pain and suffering is part of life and the good news is, Christ has made it holy for us.

Second is to be silent in order to be able to listen to every sound and thus, heighten our sensitivities not only with our true selves but also with God and with others. In this age of social media and instant communications, silent has become a rare commodity. It is always easier to speak even without thinking much than be silent. That is the way of the world: speak out loud, make noises, and let everyone hear you — until they get tired of you.

Photo by author, our parish ceiling at sunset, 25 August 2020.

Third is the most precious in God’s ways of thinking — the way of hiddenness. This is God’s most evident way of making himself felt, experienced, and yes, seen by being hidden and invisible.

Last Thursday we celebrated the memorial of St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine who narrated the story of how she got sick at Ostia in Italy with his brother hurrying to get back home to Tagaste in Africa so that when she dies, she would be buried there. St. Monica “reproached him with a glance because he had entertained such earthly thoughts”; then, she looked at St. Augustine and told him to bury her anywhere, asking one thing only from him: that he remembers her always in his celebration of the Holy Mass.

So many times, we are so concerned with our popularity that whatever we do has to be made known to everyone to see specially by those so-called “followers” with their “likes” that even up to death, some would spend a fortune for lavish funerals and even mauseleoum.

That’s the way of the world of everybody making a statement, of being known as present, always seen. In the movie “The Devil’s Advocate”, Al Pacino played the role of satan who said it so well at the end after tempting Keanu Reeves, “vanity…vanity is my most favorite sin.”

See the life of Jesus Christ: more than half was spend in hiddenness and silence. He worked only for three years characterized by so many instances of silence and hiddenness too and yet, his impact continues to this day and hereafter.

Beginning with last Sunday after asking us who do we say he is, Jesus is inviting us to follow him in his Passion and Death to be one in his Resurrection. This is also the call by St. Paul in the second reading:

I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.

Romans 12:1-2

Jesus is not asking too much from us, no need for any fanfares on our part; simply come to him with our true self, no matter how sinful and incomplete we are. Remember, all is good news with him and you never lose in him. Amen.

A blessed week to everyone!

Photo by author, parish ceiling at sunset, 25 August 2020.

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