First Reading: Jer 20:7-9; Psalm: 63. R. v. 2ab; Second Reading: Rm 12:1-2; Gospel: Mt 16:21-27
WHEN GOD CHOSE TO BE VULNERABLE
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
“At that time: Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Mt 16:21).
What readily comes to our mind upon reflection on how Jesus died on the cross to save us? What can we say of that voluntary self surrender of Jesus to his enemies to be killed like a criminal without defence or resistance? Perhaps we would say that Jesus surrendered freely to torture and death because he loves us and wants to save us. This is true. However, there are some other thinkers who feel that the voluntary self surrender of Jesus is suicidal. Put differently, that Jesus committed suicide. These thinkers likened the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem to a man who chose to throw himself to a moving vehicle to be run over. Or to someone who voluntarily walks into a lion’s den knowing full well that lions are carnivorous by nature.
This however can be argued because neither does a vehicle nor a lion thinks or wills like human beings do. But we shall not delve further into any extensive argument on this; but just to say that the voluntary self surrender of Jesus was that point when God chose to be vulnerable to reveal the strength of his power.
In the gospel of today, Jesus begins by stating clearly that he must go into Jerusalem to suffer and be killed, and then be raised on third day. Just like Peter and some thinkers, this goes without saying a very foolish thing to say or do. Little wonder Peter quickly rebuked Jesus saying, “God forbid Lord! This shall never happen to you.” Peter believed in the world of the superman. Jesus should not show any sign of weakness at all but should dominate, conquer and rule the world. But Peter was always impetuous. He failed to understand that the drive for power and dominance often blinds us from seeing what really matters, and could shut our ears from paying attention to the whispers of God.
C. S. Lewis says that “God whispers to us in our pleasures; God speaks to us in our conscience; but God shouts to us in our pain. Pain is the megaphone that God uses to rouse a deafened world.” Most often, it is in our vulnerable moments or pain that we hear God more clearly. Even in that painful moment, God could be doing greater things in our life to help us grow and come out even stronger than we were before. Jesus chose to be weak to make us strong. He carried the cross to take our burdens of sin away. He died on the cross to save the world and to give us life. And he rose from the dead and was exalted with a name above every other name. God revealed the strength of his power when he chose to be vulnerable and weak.
There are some unfortunate events in life that suddenly rock our boat leaving us broken and confused. And all of a sudden we realise how very vulnerable we are. Nobody prays to experience some crises in life; but we know that sometimes life throws a curve ball at us, and unexpectedly. Nobody wishes to experience crisis in their marriage. But sometimes, some marital misunderstandings offer us the opportunity to evaluate and see some areas of neglect in our marriage which we may not have seen if things were so smooth. This can make us come out of that crisis stronger and better. The Covid-19 pandemic was one of the worst times in our history; but that period of lockdown helped some families to stay and bond together.
A man lost his job that he loved and cherished so much. He felt depressed and sought the help of a therapist. It was during his sessions that he realised that he loved his job more than his family that was gradually falling apart unbeknown to him. He acknowledged that if he hadn’t lost his job, perhaps his wife would have left him and his daughter might have turned a drug addict. There are some people who built their prayer life and relationship with God while recuperating on their sick bed; something they wouldn’t do on a normal day.
St Ignatius of Loyola (formerly Inigo Lopez de Loyola) was a very proud soldier who at the age of 29 got his leg shattered by a cannonball in a battle with the French. During his long period of excruciating painful recovery on a sick bed, Inigo Lopez got converted reading the lives of Jesus and the saints and was baptised taking the name Ignatius. He would go on to found the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), a community of priests and brothers. Ignatius realised that he was fortunate in the whole unfortunate experience. It was God drawing him to Himself through a common cannonball. Truly, as C. S. Lewis said, “God shouts to us in our pain. Pain is the megaphone that God uses to rouse a deafened world.” Our vulnerable moments could become our channel to strength and discovery.
When Jesus accepted to be vulnerable to embrace the cross; it was not foolishness but a revelation that God can bring out good from pain. God can show the power of his strength in weakness. Those who out of pride turn a blind eye to their moments of weakness and pain may miss a life-changing message. To be vulnerable or weak is not abnormal; it is part of being human and a source of strength also. The drive for power and dominance can be misleading; it makes us look outward and not inward to hear the whispers of God. Peter was extolled by Jesus a week ago but rebuked vehemently today. Peter should come out stronger from this moment of failure knowing that he should be on guard else he falls.
The peak of Jeremiah’s crisis and vulnerability was when he accepted to be the oracle of God. Jeremiah faced mockery, dejection and violence in his prophecies. But even in this moment of crisis, Jeremiah acknowledged that he felt a burning desire within him not to be silent in his prophetic utterances. “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). When we become vulnerable, ‘God’s strength is made manifest in our weakness.’ (2 Cor 12:9).
We may be experiencing one crisis or the other at the moment as though we have been hung out to dry. We should not let ourselves be drowned by these crises but try to pay keen attention to what God could be telling us through them. God is always with us to strengthen and carry us through the crises of life. But the problem is often that we pay more attention to our pain than to what God could be saying to us at that moment. If we had just discovered that God shouts to us in our moments of pain; then maybe it is time to listen more. But if we knew all the while; then we shouldn’t think or act like Peter.
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Lord Jesus, we thank you for choosing to be vulnerable for the sake of our salvation. Help us to listen to you and to learn from our own vulnerable moments; that we may come to see the strength of your power in us. Amen.