In today’s Gospel that we just heard proclaimed, Jesus said, “If any man comes to me without hating is father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and his own life too, he cannot be my disciple.” What does this verse mean? Clearly, it cannot be interpreted literally because Jesus cannot be promoting hatred amongst people. An RCIA catechumen once said to me, “Father, I now understand that if we remove a “text” from its “context,” we are left with ‘con’!”
The clue to understanding this verse is the following line of what Jesus said, “Anyone who does not carry his Cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” The context of Jesus saying this to the crowd is that He was actually heading towards Jerusalem where He will soon be persecuted, condemned and crucified as a criminal, even though He is innocent.
In other words, Jesus was actually challenging the crowd to confront the costs of the Good News of Salvation. The Good News is not simply about accepting Jesus as Saviour and then automatically gaining eternal life when we die, regardless of how we have lived our faith during our lifetime.
Jesus wanted the crowd to first count the costs of whether they were able to make the needed commitment, before making a definitive decision to be His disciples.Thus, Jesus wanted disciples who were fully committed, and not followers who are half-hearted, lukewarm and superficial. This is because to be His disciple means that we must be willing to take up our crosses daily and remain committed in spite of the trials, tribulations and threats that will surely come our way as it did for Jesus.
To interpret the preaching of Jesus by excluding the price of the Cross is to embrace a “cheap” Christianity that promotes the benefits of eternal life and Resurrection, but bypasses Jesus’ Cross on Calvary.
The crosses the Jesus expects us to carry with Him are not necessary the persecution that He faced. Very often these “crosses” come from the daily burdens of life. There is a story of Maria and her daughter Christina. Longing to leave her poor Brazilian village, Christina wanted to see the world. She was very unhappy with having to live in a small shed where she had only a mat to sleep on, a washbasin, and a wood-burning stove. She dreamed of a better life in the city.
One morning Christina ran away from home, breaking her mother’s heart. Her mother knew what life on the streets would be like for her young, attractive daughter. So, Maria quickly packed up and left home to look for her daughter. On her way to the bus stop, she went to a drugstore to get one last thing - pictures. She sat in the photograph booth, drew the curtain, and spent all the money she had on taking photographs of herself. With her purse full of small black-and-white photos, she got on the next bus to Rio de Janeiro.
Maria knew Christina had no way of earning money. She also knew that her daughter was too stubborn to give up. . . Maria began her search. Bars, hotels, nightclubs, any place with the reputation for street walkers or prostitutes. At each place she left her picture--taped on a bathroom mirror, a hotel bulletin board, or a corner phone booth. On the back of each photo she wrote a note.
It wasn’t too long before Maria’s money and her photos ran out, and Maria was forced to return home. The tired mother cried as the bus began its long journey back to her small village. A few weeks later, Christina was coming down the stairs in a seedy hotel. Her young face was tired. Her brown eyes no longer danced with youth, but spoke of pain and fear. Her laughter was broken. Her dream had become a nightmare. Soon after Christina left home, she longed to give up all those countless beds she had slept on for the simple mat of her home that gave her true security and peace. And yet, her little village seemed too far away.
As she reached the bottom of the stairs, her eyes caught sight of a familiar face. She looked again, and there on the lobby mirror was a small picture of her mother. Christina’s eyes burned and her throat tightened as she walked across the room and removed the small photo. Written on the back Maria had written this: "Whatever you have done, whatever you have become, it doesn’t matter. Please come home.” . . . Christina went home.
God’s Love for you and me is like Maria’s, but infinitely greater: it is unconditional and always forgiving. He wants us to come home. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done. It doesn’t matter what we’ve become. We can always come home to Him. Maria, reaching out for her daughter even when her daughter didn’t realize it, is like God reaching out to us regardless of how much and how often we have failed Him. He is always there . . . longing . . . desiring for us to return home . . . (cf. adapted from story by Max Lucado)
My brothers and sisters in Christ, none of us; neither you nor I are perfect, pure or sinless . . . many of us are burdened in life, whatever they maybe . . . these “burdens” of life are not necessarily the results of our own sinfulness . . . very often they can be caused by the self-centredness of others . . . its seriousness could range from arguing with parishioners who are not willing to re-park their cars to quarrelling with our spouse who refuse to give up their mistresses . . .
There is an old American Indian tale that tells the story of a chief who was advising a group of young braves about the struggles within. "It is like two dogs fighting inside of us," the chief told them. "There is one good dog who wants to do the right and the other dog always wants to do the wrong. Sometimes the good dog seems stronger and is winning the fight. But sometimes the bad dog is stronger and wrong is winning the fight." "Who is going to win in the end?" a young brave asks. The chief answered "The one you feed." (cf. adapted: story by Richard Jones)
And so, as I conclude, let me sum up by saying that the burdens of life very often cannot be avoided nor denied . . . such burdens continue to exist and we as Christians are called to confront its truth courageously as Christ would by taking up the “cross” that God Wills of us . . . and not to deny that such burdens exists like most cowards or self-centred persons would do . . . In other words, we can either choose to live a “better life” or choose to live a “bitter life.”
Maria in our story chose to live a “better life” . . . she took up the cross and echoed Christ’ words on the cross by saying to her daughter Christina, “"Whatever you have done, whatever you have become, it doesn’t matter. Please come home.”
Is Jesus saying this to you and to me today? We do not have to be a great sinner to hear this invitation of Jesus to take up our cross and to follow Him. To accept Jesus’ invitation to be His disciple is to tell Jesus, “Lord, help me to die to my ego, my self-centredness and my pride . . . so that I can forgive more wholeheartedly and love You more deeply as You have shown me.”.
Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.
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