Riddle – Jett Villarin, SJ

Matthew 16:21-27, 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time


Riddle: the more you hold on to it, the more you drop it. The more you keep it, the more you lose it.

Answer: life.

That seems to be the gist of God’s word to us today. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

At Caesarea Philippi, Peter is praised for his profession of Jesus Christ as the Messiah of God. But when he is told that the anointed One of God is to suffer and die at the hands not of their enemies but of their religious leaders, and he refuses to accept this, he is rebuked sternly:

“Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

What could that possibly mean, to think as God does?

Two questions from our Lord today suggest a seed of an answer. “What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life?”

To think as God does is to see the inestimable value God places on life. When Jesus asks what we can give in exchange for our lives, he is telling us in effect that there is nothing in this world we can exchange for our lives, that life is priceless and immeasurable. Anything that expensive goes well beyond the bounds of this world. Anything that does not have a price tag has to be infinite. And life is infinite because it is eminently of God.

As a nation, we have failed to think as God does. We have failed to see the inestimable value God places on life. This nationwide cleansing, priced allegedly at 10,000 pesos per death of a sinner, is a scandal and an insult to God. We have resorted to this dangerous triage out of vengefulness and fear and a terrible intoxication with power. And all this in the name of a shallow peace. We flout the rule of law, submitting ourselves instead to the primitive law of the talion (equating an eye or tooth or a life with another), and we justify all this in the name of our children, for the sake of our future.

There can be no peace where there is murder. There can be no life where there is no mercy. There can be no future where there is only hatred.

As a nation, have we grown deaf to the rebuke of God? When we demonize the sinner and normalize this demonization and the consequent extermination of people, have we not arrogated to ourselves God’s way of thinking, God’s way of valuing every human life created out of his love?

To think as God does, to value what he values is to be mindful of how life is lost and found again. We lose life when we keep it to ourselves, when we save it for ourselves. And we find

life again when we lose it for the sake of our Lord, when we let go of it for the sake of others.

To lose our life is to offer our life in service and love of others. It may also mean to suffer and die at the hands of those who do not think the way God does. This kind of loss and pain is never an end in itself. It cannot be God’s way or will for anyone who would bear life for others. But in a world of wounded people, we know this way of the cross to be a pattern of life for lifegivers.

In the first reading today, when Jeremiah is trolled with “derision and reproach all the day”, when he is mocked as “an object of laughter” and he realizes his life is on the line, he is tempted to give up.

“I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.”

From Jeremiah to Jesus to anyone who would follow in the steps of our Redeemer, we know well enough the pull to safety and self-preservation. But we also know we cannot endure keeping safe and silent, keeping life to ourselves, and saving life just for our own.

To think as God does is to mind the fire burning in our hearts. To love as God loves is to grow weary trying to hold this fire inside. And to move as God moves is to suffer this fire willingly as it scatters the darkness outside.

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