I THOUGHT YOU SHOULD KNOW | The joy of repentance draws people to God’s peace

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All three readings for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time celebrate the power of God to change human hearts.

The selections begin with Jeremiah's complaint against God, alleging that God deceived him and also that Jeremiah let himself be deceived. Several chapters earlier he stated, "When I found your words, I devoured them; they became my joy and the happiness of my heart, because I bore your name, O Lord, of hosts. ... Under the weight of your hand I sat alone because you filled me with indignation."

In other words, God's words were so appealing to him as he absorbed them, but when those words prompted him to witness to God, he experienced the suffering that comes from being a spokesperson for God. Now he complains, "All the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me."

In the earlier passage, God gave Jeremiah a plain, blunt and simple answer for his pain: "If you repent, so that I restore you, in my presence you shall stand; if you bring forth the precious without the vile, you shall be my mouthpiece. Then it shall be they who turn to you, and you shall not turn to them." God implicitly told Jeremiah, and us, that if we are faithful in giving witness to God's word, that word will transform human hearts. This includes responding to our oppressors in kindness and love, rather than venting the vile, unredeemed within. On Calvary, Jesus routed Satan with mercy for His persecutors in exchange for their cursing and hatred. Even the centurion said, "Surely, this is the Son of God."

In the second reading, Paul encourages us to "offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship." When we welcome into our hearts the word of God with its power to transform our hearts, we will undergo the pain of transformation. Our un-redeemed inside will revolt against the word of God, and there will be inner turmoil. When we choose to embrace the pain of this inner transformation, in addition to our inward change, our changed way of living will help others to turn to Christ for transformation.

Paul says, "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, and what is good and pleasing and perfect."

In the Gospel, Jesus reveals to 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." From our perspective, in a post-Resurrection and post-Pentecost age, what Jesus said is comprehensible; to Peter this made no sense at all! The yet-to-be redeemed Peter takes our Savior aside to rebuke Him for saying something so horrible. Jesus immediately responds, "Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."

Jesus continues, "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."

It's obvious from these readings that when God's word confronts human behavior, there is pain. Mankind doesn't want to change, because change means to suffer. Yet, when we allow God's word to challenge our behavior and to convict us and lead us to repentance, we experience a deep peace and joy inside.

So begin with the concept of peace with God as a measure of behavior. Where do I find peace in my life? Do I find or lose my peace with God in watching the evening news, watching the demonstrations of racial hatred, and the attempts to polarize our society?

Do I lose my peace with members of my family or my co-workers, my co-travelers on the city streets and highways?

If I lose my peace in any of the above situations, where can I find the answer? I think the answer to that question is found in these readings. If I access God's word, then I allow that word to expose the lies within myself which I have absorbed from my culture. At times it may be painful to embrace the pain the word of God causes me, but embracing that pain and the repentance that pain calls for is the road to inner peace.

May I suggest a formula that will change your life in a profound way? Why not allot the same amount of time daily to reflecting on the word of God, as you spend watching the evening news, or any TV for that matter. Another effective formula for peace is to spend as much time in intercessory prayer for the newsmakers as is spent watching their actions.

What is the payoff? As God told Jeremiah, if we repent, we will become God's mouthpiece.

There are very few joys on the face of the earth equal to the joy of repentance. Joy attracts people. It appeals to their deepest hunger for God. When other people discover that we are finding joy in the midst of this world's darkness, they will themselves search for God's peace in their lives. Silence in the presence of God's word makes us witnesses to His love for us. 

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