22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time - 3rd September, 2017

Liturgical Reflection

Jer. 20:7–9; Ps 63:2–6, 8–9; Mt 16:21-27

 

Do you remember the Beatles?

       We were talking
       About the love that’s gone so cold
       And the people
       Who gain the world and lose their soul
       They don’t know
       They can’t see
       Are you one of them?1

Great lines from the Beatles’ psychedelic phase. They probably strengthened the belief that what Jesus said was “gain the world and lose one’s soul.” That was the version that most people who grew up in Britain heard year after year at school assembly. “What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (AV, Mt 16.26).

It therefore comes as a disappointment to listen to the version that we heard this morning: “What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” “Is that all?” one murmurs…

The scholar (I know that Dominicans are serious scholars) promptly asks, “Well, what did Jesus really say?”

 

The Good News Bible says “life,” as does the New Revised Standard Version. The Prison Bible is more interesting: “It is worth nothing for you to have the whole world if you yourself are lost.” Hrrmph, can that be justified? I have “small Latin and less Greek,” but I see the word ψυχ?, which looks like “psyche,” in the original, and on looking that up, I discover that “soul,” “life” and “self” could all be acceptable translations. As there seems to be consensus that ψυχ? in the previous verse means “life,” it looks as though the lifers have it, but what if the profundity of the verse under discussion comes from re-use of the same word in a different sense?

The New English Bible has “What will a man gain by winning the whole world at the cost of his true self?” However didactic “true self” sounds, now everything falls into place. Look again at those verses from Jeremiah that we heard this morning:

       I say to myself, I will not mention him [the Lord],
       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.

Jeremiah did not hear Jesus speak the words we heard this morning, but he understood them perfectly. His example is all the commentary we need. Cry out, pay the price, your soul remains whole.

H

1. George Harrison, "Within You Without You" published in the album "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", 1967.