Jeremiah did not want to be a prophet. It was not a comfortable vocation. You had to be prepared to speak the truth that people did not want to hear. You sometimes had to undertake dramatic ways of acting out your message. You might even have to confront the king if he was acting oppressively or exploiting his position. This explains our first reading today (Jer. 20.7-9) in which the prophet admits his reluctance to stand out from the crowd by preaching repentance and calling on people to turn back to God. He says: I will be making a fool of myself, no one will heed me. Then he says: but I have to do this, it is so strong within me.
Is that really so different to you and me? We live in a culture which is strangely dismissive of its historic Christian faith, which has done so much to shape this country in ways that have been a blessing to it. We live in a time of spiritual fashions when it is unfashionable to be Christian, especially a Catholic Christian. But you know the spiritual life that is in you. You have eyes to recognise in the Mass something powerful beyond our understanding. You know that you belong to a global fellowship of believers. Although, like Jeremiah, you do not relish standing out, seeming different or unfashionable, the faith glows in your heart. And this faith is a faith that goes beyond words printed on a page. It’s a faith in the living Son of God, Jesus Christ. He is there with you in your daily pilgrimage. May it always be so.
The gospel today brings us a bracing message to persevere in this faith, no matter what the cost. Take up your cross, says Jesus. Whatever your source of sorrow or suffering, you can still follow me. More than that, Jesus reminds us in the gospel today (Matt. 16.21-27) that he has trod the path of suffering before us. This is one of our greatest sources of hope, the realisation that God, in Christ, has experienced suffering just as we do, and did not turn away from it. This memory of divine love has sustained men and women for 2000 years and it sustains us still.
‘Let your behaviour change’ says St Paul to the Romans ‘discover the will of God’ (Rom. 12.1-2). Because we know the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus, we know that God does not want us to stand still. We are challenged to press on, to bring to God the ins and outs of our daily living, our joys and sorrows, our successes and disappointments. Only in this way can we manage to discover the will of God and change where necessary. Like Jeremiah we would rather stand still, rest a little, lead a life without challenge. But then we hear again the words of Jesus: ‘Take up your cross, and follow me.’