TRUE CHRISTIANITY COMES AT A GREAT COST
2Kings 4:8-11, 14-16; Rom 6:3-4, 8-11; Matt 10:37-42
Today’s gospel reading is the final portion of Matthew 10 in which Jesus gives his disciples an extended teaching on mission or ministry. In the gospel text of last Sunday, Matt 10:26-33, Jesus exhorted his disciples not to be afraid of the obstacles they are sure to face in their discipleship. Today, in the first part of the gospel reading, Jesus paints a portrait of the missionary or minister who is worthy of the name “Christian”. “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.” (Mt 10:37-39).
- YOU MUST HATE YOUR FAMILY FOR THE SAKE OF CHRIST
St. Luke’s phrases this statement in a more forceful way: “Anyone who comes to me without hating father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and his own life too, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). In admonishing his apostles who are about to go out on mission, Jesus tells them that he, the Lord, deserves more love and more attention than even their parents or any other person besides. It is a matter of priorities: Christ surpasses our parents in his importance in our lives. These verses are hard enough, because quite frankly most of us want to be at peace with others. We hate confrontation and generally we want to have good relationships with practically everyone.
Here, Jesus tells us what it means to make him Lord of all. The messenger of Christ must be someone who is in love with Christ in such a way that love of parents and children (and implicitly, love of spouse) assumes A SECONDARY IMPORTANCE. Not only love of family, but love of oneself becomes secondary as well. This idea of not loving one’s family is not a popular message to the modern people. If there is one thing that everyone seems to agree on it is that our families are of supreme importance, so for Jesus to say that anything is more important than our family relationships is scandalous. But Jesus is right. If we love our parents, our spouse, our kids, our jobs, our position, our money, or even ourselves more than we love him, then we are chasing after idols, and we are treating him as less than he deserves. However, these words of Jesus are not at all meant to lessen the due affection of children to their parents who brought them into the world, nor does it disrespect the ties and obligations of nature. They are meant to show, that as Christ is infinitely above all creatures, loving him would call for sacrifices on our part. In the next verse (V. 38) Jesus goes further to say that if we refuse to take up our cross and follow him we are not worthy of being his own.
- TAKE UP YOUR CROSS AND FOLLOW ME
Jesus tell his followers, whom we are: “Anyone who does not take up his (or her) cross and follow in my footsteps is not worthy of me”. Those are also very strong words! The “cross” painted a picture that would have been very vivid to Jesus’ listeners, because crucifixion was quite common in that region for hundreds of years. In Jesus’ day, it was not uncommon to see a person condemned to death by crucifixion being forced to carry the crossbeam to which he/she would be nailed, while being led to death. Jesus’ hearers were familiar with this image, therefore when Jesus told them that if they refused to take up their cross, they were not worthy of him, they knew that he was calling them to be willing to give up anything, even their lives for him.
Though the picture of the cross is still vivid even today, it has become so common to us to the extent that we can easily miss its meaning. Essentially Jesus is saying that unless we are willing to give up everything for him, and to endure whatever hardship may come our way, we are not truly his followers. This is hard, because there are lots of things that we would struggle to give up for any reason, even for Jesus:
- Our job, source of income, or security
- Our families, friends, or other relationships we enjoy
- Our money, house, or possessions
- Our freedom to do, say, wear, and spend what we want
- Our comfort, or the comfort of those we love
- Our time, our status, our popularity, or our “happiness”
All of these are things that we are tempted to try to hang unto. But sometimes we are forced to make a choice; we can either be obedient to the Lord or we can have these other things we desire. Sometimes we can have both; other times we cannot. Jesus tells us that our choices show us what we really value most.
Jesus is also telling us that life here on earth is not free of trials and difficulties. Because Jesus himself suffered a great deal, we should make ourselves like him, by accepting the trials that come to us. Jesus is simply letting us know that true Christianity comes at a great cost. To be a true Christian leaves no room for self-centeredness and comfort-seeking. We have all heard the phrase, “you get what you pay for”. Indeed, we need to beware of cheap religion. We have to beware of any religion that comes across as soft and easy—the religions that basically say, “go ahead and do your own thing as long as you are being true to yourself”. What absurdity! We must be distrustful of any religion where the cost of following Christ is never mentioned and where our consciences are never challenged or disturbed.
- THE APOSTLES DID CARRY THEIR CROSSES AND FOLLED HIM
We like the outcome of the discipleship of the Apostles of Jesus. But if we take a close look of what they went through, we would be hesitant to hear the cost of that discipleship. For the record, here is the cost that history tells us:
- John died of extreme old age exiled to the island of Patmos;
- Judas Iscariot, after betraying his Lord, hanged himself;
- Peter was crucified, head downward, during the persecution of Nero;
- Andrew died on a cross at Patrae, a Grecian Colony;
- James, son of Alphaeus, was thrown from a pinnacle of the Temple, and then
beaten to death with a club;
- Bartholomew was scourged to death in Albanapolis, Armenia;
- James, the elder son of Zebedee, was beheaded at Jerusalem;
- Thomas, the doubter, was pieced through the body with a lance, at
Coromandel, in the East Indies;
- Philip was hanged against a pillar at Heropolis;
- Thaddeus was shot to death with arrows;
- Simon died on a cross in Persia (what we today call Iran.);
- Matthew was first stoned and then beheaded.
These are the great sacrifices made by apostles! Why did they choose to die this way? They did it for the LOVE OF JESUS. While we preach God’s love for us, we must not forget our responsibility and the tough moments that are sure to come in our effort to follow him in the way that he wants us to.
St. Paul, reminds us in the 2nd Reading of today: “When we were baptized in Christ Jesus we were baptized in his death”. But he quickly adds that “Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, … so too we must live a new life.” (Rom 6:3-4). By this, St. Paul proclaims that the Christian is conformed to Christ through his Cross, Passion and Death. Our Christianity is vain if we do not identify with Christ’s Cross, Passion and Death. While following Christ does not mean that our lives will always be full of difficulty and pain, there will be times when being discipleship will ask something of us that we may not want to do. There is a cost to discipleship. The cross reminds us that this mad world does have a purpose without sacrifices. Paul says: You cannot belong to Christ Jesus unless you crucify all self-indulgent passions and desires (Galatians 5:24).
- WE LIVE IN A WORLD OF CONVENIENCES
Today, we live in a world of conveniences. Many a modern person wants to follow Jesus UP TO THE CROSS, but NOT ON THE CROSS. We do not want to get ourselves crucified, like Jesus. We shun effort. We dread anything that brings pain, even if bearing that pain for a short while would be to our advantage. We want everything instantly, without pain or stress. For the love our children, and family, we encourage minimum effort in our children. We make our children get used to the shortcut approach to everything. We are tempted to always seek the easy option, even when there is no easy option — at least not if we want genuine results.
Today, Jesus emphasizes that we should not delude ourselves to think that we are achieving success by cutting corners. Jesus wants real followers, not just admirers of his. He calls us to be alert to the world and its difficulties. He asks us to renounce ourselves and our personal comforts, and face the tough reality of life. He does not mislead anyone to thinking that there are short-cuts to success. For, anyone who tries to cheat or buy his/her way to success shall end in ruins. There are no instant solutions to life’s problems. We must face the tough choices of life, even if they will mean turning our back to our family. We must teach our children the truths about life, rather than pamper and spoil them. You may have to hate your husband or wife, by telling him/her the bitter truth which he/she would prefer to forget conveniently. In this respect, Jesus poses this question to us today: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” (Mk 8:36).
- NO EFFORT OF OURS WILL GO UNREWARDED
The last three verses of the gospel serve as an important reminder as we think about sacrificing things for the Lord. “”Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because the little one is a disciple— amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.” (Mat 10:40-42). These verses are good news for us as we are called to labour for the Lord. Whatever we are doing does not go unnoticed. Jesus says that the person who blesses and honours a servant of the Lord will be rewarded just as that servant would be. He says that if we give even a cup of cold water to the least of his followers we will be rewarded.
This is strong motivation for us to be obedient. It is a reminder that God does not ask us to do things because he wants to make us miserable. He loves us and wants what is best for us. These verses remind us that our service to the Lord does not go unnoticed by him. The people around us may not see what we do; they may not think that we have any value at all. We recall in the Gospel of Matthew, when Jesus brought up this topic of sacrificing for the course of the gospel, Peter characteristically had the audacity to pose a question that led Jesus to throw more light on this teaching. Peter said: “See, we have left everything and followed you. what then will we have?” Jesus responds to him in these words: “As for those who have left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children or property for my Name’s sake, they will receive a hundredfold and be given eternal life” Mt 19:27-30. Other people may not reward us for doing what God has called us to do, but we are reminded that God will reward us for our faithfulness and our obedience.
Practically speaking, this means we should continue to be faithful; in the big things, and even in the little things. It is quite tempting to conclude that no one will notice the efforts we put into being obedient in little things, but we need to remember that God does! A great patron of such actions, “doing ordinary things in an extraordinary way”, is St. Therese of Lisieux, popularly called the Little Flower. She offered the Lord the ordinary things of daily life, but she did these things day after day, week after week, in the best way she could, something that is easy to say and relate, but tremendously difficult to do. Today, we are called to continue to try to look for simple ways in which we can meet the needs of people around us. Jesus talks about a cup of cold water, but it could be anything such as:
- explain Offering to help someone whose hands are full with the door or with their bags
- Cleaning up a mess you did not make (without complaining!)
- Making the effort to connect with the person who feels overlooked by the world
- Sending a text message or making a phone call just to tell someone something we admire about them.
- Trying to lovingly to someone the gospel message
We can do all these are things without anyone else ever knowing. There are a lots of these things that we can do every day. Let us keep doing them! In our first reading today, we observe a lady’s hospitality to the prophet Elisha. God experienced her courtesy in the person of the prophet. A year later he gave this barren woman the gift of a baby boy. It is tempting sometimes to give up doing good things when it does not seem like it is getting us anywhere, when no one seems to notice and when it does not seem to make any difference what we do. But, let us remember, God takes notice of our obedience even when no one else does, and he says we will be rewarded for our services to others on his behalf.
Let us pray, therefore, for the spirit of perseverance and sacrifice in serving God and our brothers and sisters. For, whether we see it or not, our services make a difference in the world and in the eyes of God. May the Lord bless us as we continue our battle in the face of our daily personal challenges in following on the footsteps of Jesus and in the face of the now-famous global Covid 19 pandemic. AMEN.