Once upon a time, a wealthy man gave a severe order to his housekeeper not to allow anyone in his household to drive one of the cars in his garage which he considered as his favourite. The instruction was meant for everyone including his wife and his children. According to him, anyone can drive any of the cars but not the one he indicated. A week after the instruction was given, the man’s first son arrived from overseas. Incidentally, the young man decided to move around and catch up with his old friends. But he needed mobility and requested specifically for the key to that same car his father had warned that nobody should drive.
The above request was not an easy one for the housekeeper who received an instruction under an oath not to release the key of the car in question to anyone. He was instantly left between the normative instruction of his master and the passionate request of the son of the master who actually bought and sent the car to his dad as a gift. The housekeeper tried to rationalise over the request by giving some flimsy excuses over the state of the car; he was obviously afraid to declare the instruction of the master to his son. In fact, he was caught between the devil and the deep blue sea: “to tell the young man that he cannot drive the car he bought for his father because the father said so or to disobey the instruction of the master which he received under an oath!”
The master’s son was seriously confused and angry at the housekeeper who seemed to be struggling with the right words to use to subvert the request. The housekeeper became very frustrated over the situation and in that state he said “my oga don finish me ooh! How I go tell im pikin say im no fit drive the car wey im buy for im papa” (My master has dealt with me by giving me such an instruction that would stop his son from driving the car that he (the son) bought for him (the father).
A careful insight into the scenario above will lead us to understand the situation Jeremiah could have found himself in the First Reading (Jer.20:7-9) where the proclamation of the word of God became like a torment for him. Among other things Jeremiah bemoaned saying:
“If I say, I will not mention him or speak any more in his name there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. (Jer.20:9).
It was on account of the foregoing that Jeremiah declared that God has deceived him. This description that he directed at God is shocking, and it’s even more shocking in Hebrew language. The word Jeremiah used was “deceived” which actually means “seduced,” “misled”, “pushed” and “overpowered” often it means “raped.” The prophet was saying to God, “You have seduced and misled me!” He was saying: “God, I didn’t sign on for this! You told me it would be tough, but you didn’t tell me that it was going to be this tough!” He described in details the personal ridicule, insult, and reproach he received for delivering God’s word. It is more like agreeing to carry out something only to discover that doing so will bring about personal discomfort and agony.
Often times we wrongly assume and even believe that accepting to follow God and doing His will would bring about better times, public appreciation, and other wonderful things. But that is not always the case. The word of God has a way of bringing discomfort to people as it addresses the innermost part of us. It was on the strength of this that the letter to the Hebrews declared that the word of God is something alive and active and that it cuts sharper than a double edged sword (Heb. 4:12).
We often misrepresent and misjudge God based on our narrow understanding and knowledge of Him. There are times when we feel that God had abandoned us but He is actually nearer to us. The man called Job had his own story of what seems to be “divine deception”. However we all know that God did not allow Job to be pushed in vain (Job 1:6-12). Even our Lord Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane had his own moment of “divine abandonment” and that made him to cry “My God My God why have you forsaken me”(Matt. 27:46).
Often in our troubles we accuse God of deceiving us, of abandoning us and rendering us useless. It is on the basis of this that most of us have the temerity to question God in the face of certain challenges. One thing we must know in our lives is that there is nothing that happens without God’s knowledge (Isaiah 40:28) and for those who trust in Him, they will lack no blessing (Psalm 34:10).
In the Gospel Reading today (Matt.16:21-27), we are presented with one of the most remarkable encounters between our Lord Jesus Christ and the apostle Peter. It all started with our Lord Jesus Christ rendering God’s proposition about the mission of the messiah which includes majorly his entrance into Jerusalem to suffer and to die in the hands of the authorities but also to rise again on the third day. This divine thesis did not go down well for Peter (or figuratively Satan) as he took the Lord aside to advise him against that move. On account of this, our Lord addressing Peter said: “Get behind me Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men”.
We shall take time to digest this first and highly important segment of the gospel of today. The interaction was initiated by our Lord Jesus Christ as he told them what lies ahead in his mission. Peter reacted immediately against the messianic plan by rebuking our Lord for his plan to suffer and to die. However, it is very clear that Peter missed out something. He saw the suffering and death but was not attentive to the rising from the dead on the third day. Often we see the pains now and not the gains later. Often we see the sufferings now not the success later. Often we see the death now and not the unending life after death.
For every divine plan there is usually a satanic opposition. Our Lord was attentive to this and that was why he did not put the blame on Peter but on Satan. Now the name Satan in Hebrew means “adversary”. An adversary means an enemy, an opponent. It is thus very clear from the passage that Peter’s statement was in opposition to God’s divine plan of salvation. Our Lord was attentive to the faulty origin of Peter’s stance when he told the “Satan” in Peter’s rebuke to go behind him. Satan actually belongs to the backyard and we must always make conscious to give him that infertile position at all times. Whenever the adversary is standing in front we face serious problem so he must always be given the “behind” position if we must secure a better future.
The instruction our Lord gave after his counter-rebuke to Peter reminds us of what we have been told before that God’s designs are not always easy though they still remain gainful. It was upon this that he declared that any man who would come after him should: 1. Deny himself, 2. Take up his cross and 3) follow him. Selfdenial is very indispensable for any worthwhile Christian. The natural disposition we have as human beings is selfishness; we are always thinking about ourselves and what we can gain for ourselves. The next is being able to carry the cross. For most people, the cross is simply a burden but that is not true. An attentive look at a cross reveals that it is an additional sign (+). Hence there are gains in the cross and not minuses. Furthermore, the cross can serve as a ladder to assist us in climbing over obstacles when we place it against any obstacle. More so, the cross can also be a key or a sword when we place it in a horizontal position. Hence when our Lord said we should take our cross and follow him he was giving us a great invitation.
It is also good to point out that following our Lord is not what we are expected to do at our convenience. It must be done consistently and continuously. In fact, in the gospel of Luke (9:23) our Lord advised that one should take up one’s cross DAILY and FOLLOW him. From this view point, we understand that following the Lord is not just on Sundays or when we have one challenge or the other. It is rather an integral part of our vocation as Christians.
Finally, nobody wants to lose his or her life for nothing. That is why we eat good food and take health precautions. But this is for the securing of our physical life which is transient. There is another life which is more important than the one we have now and that is eternal life. Our Lord is telling us that we can secure eternal life by detaching ourselves from so much concentration and attraction to the properties of our physical lives. On account of this our Lord asked: “what shall it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?” I believe it will be more of a blessing for us to forfeit this life and gain eternal life.
As we march into this new week, let us have it registered in our minds that God cannot deceive us nor can we deceive Him. Jeremiah could have lacked the right words to use in articulating what he was passing through and that was why he concluded by saying that God has deceived him. For every divine plan there is usually a satanic opposition and the safest thing to do is to be attentive to the Lord invitation through self-denial, taking up the cross and following him.
Have a great and wonderful week ahead!