Its not so long ago that we were reading of Elijah wanting to die because of his failure to inspire the people and because of a death-threat against him. Jeremiah was in a worse situation in Judah around the 7th century BC. In that land, regard for Yahweh and the Covenant was almost entirely abandoned, and God urged Jeremiah to preach about the inevitable political demise and eventual national disaster. He had a respite from his work for a short time during the reign of Josiah; for this king tried to reintroduce the recognition of the Law of God as found written in what we now see as the early books of the bible, especially Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. But this reform soon failed, and idolatry and fertility cults regained popularity. Despite extreme reluctance, Jeremiah began the work of his calling, which was to bring him general disfavour, occasional imprisonment or confinement and continued unpopularity. There was some upbeat aspects to his message at times, particularly the one about God wanting to set up a new covenant within the hearts of the people. He suffered a tormenting turmoil in his own life; it resulted both from his natural abhorrence of preaching against his own people, and from the deep and inescapable inner compulsion to undertake the vocation given him by God – announcing the peoples’ downfall. Doing God’s will is not always an obviously good thing! Our reading is his outcry at this personal conflict within him.
The second reading follows nicely from the thoughts of the Old Testament situation of Jeremiah. You mustn’t conform to the laxity of morals that there may be in the world of your experience, Paul writes to the Romans; there is a spiritual depth to your being that calls you to commitment to the will of God. It is calling for a sacrifice – surrendering what you might be attracted to. You do this to live in a more elevated way – a way that recognises God’s purpose for human life. The apparent contrast between body and spirit is not the duality of body and soul that many think of, but rather the difference between what I fancy for myself and what God wants to make of me – contrast flesh and spirit. However it is really the difference between God’s will for what He creates to be good and perfect, and the nothingness from which it is raised by Him.
We are at the point in Matthew’s gospel when Peter has just expressed the belief that Jesus is the Messiah expected by the Jews with the anticipation of liberation from Roman dominance and superiority over all the nations. Also Jesus, according only to Matthew’s gospel, has told Peter that he will have a leading role in the new kingdom. It is this that turns out to be the community of Christians that exists at the time of this gospel’s composition. But this wasn’t at all the kind of kingdom and leadership that Peter actually imagined it would be. In the gospel stories it is at this stage that Jesus begins to speak plainly about the problems that He foresees will come upon Him because of the life He is leading and the message He is preaching – a whole new attitude to religious observance and a view of God as a spiritual liberator full of kindness and forgiveness. This message and belief in it will inevitably bring trouble and difficulty – in the secular aspect of life though not in one’s inner being. It is the contrast between these two areas of life that is the subject of Jesus’ words in our gospel for this day.
see Jeffs Jottings – The sacred meal