Many of us are engaged in the Eucharistic Revival, through which we are contemplating and learning about various titles and aspects of the Eucharist. One prominent title is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. We are reminded that after the Last Supper, Jesus went into the garden, was betrayed, tried, tortured, led to the cross and killed. When Jesus asks us to follow in His footsteps, it is not only about glory and exaltation, but also about suffering and sacrifice.
This weekend, we have a part of Matthew’s Gospel in which Jesus tries to tell His disciples and apostles that He must first suffer and die. We can see from their reaction that it was not in their understanding of a messiah that He would suffer and die. Their image had more to do with exaltation and glory. It had to do with the resurrection of the Israelites, with power and influence. They did not picture the suffering and sacrifice, heated tone, special power and exaltation of it.
We also have the interaction between the prophet Jeremiah and God. Jeremiah tells God that he has been duped — and has allowed himself to be deceived. That is not a word we usually use, but we certainly know the word’s implications. Jeremiah believes that God has made a fool of him, and he allowed himself to become a fool for God. Jeremiah’s voice echoes the experience that many of us have had as we encounter God’s invitation to become His disciples. We allow God to come into our lives and hearts. God invites us, encourages us and dupes us into doing things we never imagined doing. God calls us beyond our comfort zone, as He did Jeremiah, and asks us to be willing to look like fools in the face of others for the sake of God. Jeremiah feels hunted by God and almost wishes God would leave him alone.
Sacrifice and suffering are not popular discussion topics but we must be engaged with them if we follow Jesus’ footsteps. Scripture invites us to reflect upon our own lives and how much we love convenience. Probably more important than that, we need to look at how we are sidestepping and excusing ourselves from sacrifice and surrender that Jesus is inviting us into. Where is God inviting us to sacrifice in the same way that Jesus did?
Jesus didn’t just sacrifice for those living the way He wanted them to; He sacrificed for those who betrayed Him, condemned Him to death and nailed Him to the cross. How is God asking us to surrender for the sake of those sorts of people? Are we taking that invitation from God — or are we making excuses?
As we engage in this Eucharistic Revival, we can deepen our understanding that the Eucharist is our food for the journey. Alone and without God’s help, we cannot sacrifice and commit the way He asks us. It is simply impossible.
If we’re not careful, we will continue to do the things that numb us to the invitations God gives us daily. If we think God is not asking us to sacrifice, we need to get below the surface of numbing activities and listen more deeply to the ways that God is inviting us to the cross.
Suffering and sacrifice don’t have to be artificially invented or placed upon ourselves. There is plenty in our everyday lives. I look around and see the work of God in our neighborhood, family and community. Pay attention to what we see that makes us uncomfortable, yet we know we’re called to make a difference. The next time we’re at Mass, pray for the courage to listen, to hear in a new way and to act upon the invitation that Jesus gives to each of us to follow in His footsteps. We are called to be fools for the sake of God.
Father Donald Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.