St Patrick's Cathedral, Trim

Reflection for the twelfth Sunday after Trinity

Reading: Romans 12: 9-21

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Reading: Matthew 16: 21-28

From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’ Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? ‘For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.’

Reflection

Have you ever found yourself in the embarrassing and uncomfortable position of having said the wrong thing at the wrong time? You have barely spoken the words before you immediately realise how inappropriate or hurtful or offensive they are to somebody else. If you have been in that position, your first reaction probably was to wish that you could take the words back. Knowing that to be impossible, your next wish was possibly that the ground could open up and swallow you, so great is the feeling of regret and embarrassment.

Consider how Peter felt, following his reaction to Our Lord’s prediction that he would undergo great suffering, would be handed over to the authorities to be killed and on the third day, raised. Appalled at such unthinkable events, Peter said: ‘God forbid it Lord, this must never happen to you!’ It seems a very reasonable statement on Peter’s part, showing his loyalty and allegiance to Jesus and not wanting him to come to any harm. Yet it earned him a stinging rebuke when Jesus called him ‘Satan’ and a stumbling block.

Bear in mind that this conversation followed on from Peter being commended by Our Lord for his divinely given insight in recognising that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, earning him the title, The Rock on which the church would be built. What a sudden fall from grace to go from the Rock, to being condemned as Satan, the evil one. Does it appear as unduly harsh on Peter for saying something well-intentioned, even if wide of the mark?

The reason for Our Lord’s strong reaction was that Peter, however unwittingly, had repeated the temptation put to Jesus by Satan in the wilderness following his baptism – the temptation to look for earthly power and authority. Peter, like many people, expected that a Messiah would be a conquering hero, putting right the wrongs of the world by overthrowing the oppressive occupying forces and becoming the ruler of a restored Kingdom of Israel. Jesus on the other hand had chosen the path of self-giving and self-sacrifice which would inevitably bring him on the path of suffering. By choosing that path, he would overcome evil with good.

When Jesus said ‘Get behind me, Satan’, he did not mean get out of my sight, but get behind me as an obedient disciple, following faithfully and not challenging God’s will and purpose. Our Lord then defined the role of a true disciple as those who would give up everything, who would lose their life for his sake and be prepared to make sacrifices. This is extremely challenging and not easy to take on board.

Today’s reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans provides us with a helpful way of understanding Our Lord’s words in the gospel. Paul urged his readers to present themselves as a living sacrifice. He went on to spell out ways in which they could live, following the example of Jesus, a life of putting others first in God’s service.

Let love be genuine, love one another with mutual affection, outdo one another in showing honour. Don’t lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Care for the needs of others, be hospitable to strangers. The whole tone of this passage is about commitment to the welfare of others, genuinely seeking their good. This is faith in action, it is self-giving rather than self-serving, following the example of Christ.

This passage from Romans is full of wise advice which we would all do well to consider. Live in harmony with one another, do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are! This is the model for the Christian community to follow, both for its own unity and wellbeing and as an example to the wider world. How often has the church attracted attention for all the wrong reasons, especially for disputes and divisions within and between various Christian denominations.

The passage also has relevance for the world we live in. When we think of the various conflicts around the world where one group seeks to exert power over another, where violence breaks out and escalates as each side seeks to repay the other in vengeance for injury suffered, we can see how utterly futile war and violence are as a way of addressing differences. St. Paul’s advice, not to seek vengeance but to leave room for the wrath of God, is powerful.

‘If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink’. ‘Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good’. There have been notable examples of Christian people down through history who have put this teaching into practice. An example that springs to mind is Gordon Wilson, who lost his daughter in the remembrance day bomb attack in Enniskillen 33 years ago. He forgave her killers and later went to meet them to appeal to them to renounce violence. It was costly for him, but he believed that there was a better way and his courage and faith were a powerful witness.

Christ called his disciples to a radical new way of living, though self-giving. Those who choose that way discover the true meaning of the words, ‘Those who lose their life for my sake, will find it’. Amen.

Collect for twelfth Sunday after Trinity

Almighty and everlasting God,
you are always more ready to hear than we to pray
and to give more than either we desire, or deserve:
Pour down upon us the abundance of your mercy,
forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid,
and giving us those good things
which we are not worthy to ask
save through the merits and mediation
of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.

Prayers of intercession

God our Father, hear the prayers we offer for your church and the world.

We pray for this diocese, its people and Pat, our bishop. Give us the grace to follow the example of Christ in self-giving, rather than self-service. Help us to live as a community in harmony with one another, where genuine love is practiced and all people are welcomed. Teach us to be generous in responding to the needs of others.

Lord hear us: Lord graciously hear us.

We give you thanks for all who serve our country and our community in public service. We pray for our elected representatives that they may lead with responsibility and integrity. We thank you for all who work in our health service as frontline workers. Protect and strengthen them in their work. Guide and direct all who make and implement public health policy that the measures we take will be effective in preventing the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Lord hear us: Lord graciously hear us.

We give thanks for all who serve our children and young people in education. We pray for school principals, teachers and staff as the pupils return to school. Bless all children who are starting school, returning or moving on to new schools or college. May our schools and colleges be places of true learning where all children are valued and nurtured.

Lord hear us: Lord graciously hear us.

We pray for all who are ill, in body mind and spirit. We remember all who are undergoing medical treatment or awaiting surgery. We pray for the elderly, the housebound and all who struggle with pain or disability. Grant them your peace, strength and healing.

Lord hear us: Lord graciously hear us.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
and the love of God
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit
be with us all evermore. Amen.

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