In today’s first reading, Jeremiah laments his prophetic vocation. God has tricked him and Jeremiah allowed it. Now he is an object of laughter and mockery. Jeremiah preached to the people of Judah shortly before the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians in the sixth century BCE. The book of the prophet Jeremiah reveals the costs of being a spokesperson for God. His enemies—the very people to whom he is sent to prophesy—dig a pit in which to snare him (Jeremiah 18:20). He is thrown into a cistern and left for dead (Jeremiah 38:16). God forbade him to marry and have a family (Jeremiah 16:2). The repeated rebukes and derisions lead Jeremiah to regret the day he was born (Jeremiah 20:17–18). Nonetheless, the prophet admits, “Your words were my joy, the happiness of my heart” (Jeremiah 15:16).
Christians are to offer themselves as a living sacrifice, urges Paul in the second reading. in the Jewish tradition, the priest offered grain, incense, or animals as sacrifices in the temple. But Christians themselves are to become the offering, holy and pleasing to God. Paul encourages the mostly Gentile community of Rome to use their head, so to speak. They are to discern God’s desire, and they are to avoid the trappings and temptations of the current age. As the letter continues, Paul encourages everyone to think soberly, according to the measure of faith given them by God (Romans 12:3).
In today’s Gospel passage, the first of three prophecies (Matthew 16:21–23; 17:22–23; 20:17–19), Jesus predicts what awaits him in Jerusalem. As Jeremiah suffered on account of God’s word, so too will Jesus at the hands of the religious authorities. Peter, upon whom Jesus had just recently bestowed authority (Matthew 16:18), rebukes him. Jesus’ response is sharp. Peter is Satan and a stumbling block. The Greek word translated as “stumbling block” is skandalon, from which we get the word “scandal.” Peter scandalizes Jesus by his attempt to prevent the plan of God. In response to Peter’s misunderstanding, Jesus explains the expectations of discipleship. Disciples must take up their cross and follow Jesus, even unto death. But upon the return of the son of Man, each will be repaid according to his or her conduct.