In the shadow of God’s wings is where Jeremiah finds himself in our First Reading this Sunday. There are two elements to this. First, Jeremiah undergoes a deep doubt of his own vocation because of the fact that he is in a shadow; he is in darkness. Second, however, he realises that those wings that cause the darkness are God’s and God is the source of all light and therefore, by the renewal of Jeremiah’s mind that St Paul speaks of in our Second Reading, Jeremiah realises that the shadow is only present when viewed with earthly eyes.
Jeremiah begins to become very acquainted with the difficulties of speaking on behalf of God—a prophet’s job. “I am a daily laughing-stock, everybody’s butt… The word of the Lord has meant for me insult, derision, all day long.”
This can be what we feel like often-times. God has many enemies, some of whom are among our friends, families, and colleagues and this makes our path in honouring and loving God above all things very difficult.
Jesus, in our Gospel, picks up this very theme. After Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, he tries to stop Jesus from offering Himself unto death out of love for the sins of the world. Jesus then rebukes Peter saying,
Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my path, because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.’ Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it. What, then, will a man gain if he wins the whole world and ruins his life? Or what has a man to offer in exchange for his life?
The Lord promises that following Him is a path that is lined with the cross of crucifixion; we too will become a “sign of contradiction” (see Luke 2:34) in this world. Who, then, is mad enough to follow Jesus? All those who fix their eyes on the promise beyond the grave. He also said that if we lose our lives for His sake, i.e. accept and bear patiently with those trials out of love for Him, we will find our lives, i.e. live in eternal and perfect happiness in union with Him beholding and sharing in the glory of the Blessed Trinity!
You may or may not be tempted to say “count me in!” as I am, but remember that we must say it to the Lord with our love, and we show our love by bearing trials and suffering for His sake. St Paul says in Romans 5:3-5,
…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
St Paul, in this Sunday’s Second Reading, calls us to be transformed by the renewal of our minds. We need to stop thinking about things man’s way and start seeing things God’s way, like Jesus said in the Gospel. When we begin to see and know the infinite goodness of God and how He is the only thing that could every satisfy us, then we begin to trust Him. And why can we trust Him? Because we have seen His love for us on the Cross—never again can we doubt God’s perfect Fatherly intentions towards us.
Jeremiah underwent this renewal of his mind and completely changed his tune (albeit the hard way),
I used to say, ‘I will not think about him, I will not speak in his name any more.’ [but] Then there seemed to be a fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones. The effort to restrain it wearied me, I could not bear it.
Once Jeremiah put things into perspective, he couldn’t even stop himself from proclaiming the word of the Lord. This is what Jesus did in the face of death—even on the Cross He prayed for His persecutors. The martyrs who have come after Jesus have followed His example. Many have gone to their deaths praying, rejoicing, praising, and even singing out of their love for Jesus in the knowledge that they were about to definitively “lose their earthly lives” only to “find them” and take them up in eternal happiness on the other side.
These saints that have gone before us did not do this on their own strength, however. They could only do it on the strength of Christ (see John 15:5), which comes to us through the Sacraments seasoned with prayer. These saints chose to stand under the shadow of Jesus’ wings: His outstretched arms on the Cross, and He became their light, which the world cannot understand (see 1 Corinthians 1:23).
This Sunday, the Lord, once again, will tie His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity to our mortal bodies and souls to strengthen us and have us partake more deeply of His divine nature; His divine strength.
The only adequate response to this is worship in thanksgiving. With this Sunday’s Psalm, we will say, with the same unquenchable fire burning in our hearts as in Jeremiah’s,
“For you my soul is thirsting, O Lord my God… For your love is better than life…”