23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Fr. Simham)
Let me begin by telling you a little story I read somewhere. It’s about a little girl who came home sad after the school and complained to her mother about what happened in the school.
‘Mum’ she said ‘you’ll never guess what happened during Religious Education today. We had an auction and we were all given 1000 pounds to spend. The teacher was auctioning things like popularity, good looks, sporting ability, fame, wealth, and so on. Down the bottom of the list was heaven.’
‘I wanted heaven and so when my turn to bid came I said ‘500 pounds for heaven’.’Well, mum, you know Michelle, the girl who doesn’t like me, she doesn’t even believe in God, well, she knew I was after heaven and so when her turn came she said, ‘1000 pounds for heaven.’
‘And she got heaven, Mum, and I didn’t!’The mother couldn’t help laughing, and finally she said, ‘Well, what you learnt from that?’The girl replied, “I should have given everything instead trying to bargain.”
Well, that is the lesson from today’s gospel. When it comes to the question of going to heaven; when it comes to discipleship; when it comes to the question of following Jesus don’t hold back anything, but give it everything.
In the gospel today, we see a big crowd following Jesus. And that crown surely had many who didn’t know why they were there and what they wanted from Jesus? They were just part of the crown and moving with the crowd. So, Jesus wanted to teach them that following him is not following the crowd. It is an individual choice, it is a well thought about decision and it demands, great renunciation and sacrifice. On the whole he teaches them what is the cost of discipleship?
First: As a part of being a disciple Jesus says we must “hate” or “turn our back” on father and mother, wife and children. It is not just some pious exaggeration as some people think. He is not saying simply to love them less than we love God. He is demanding that we reject any half-heartedness in following the Gospel; that we put any obstacle aside if it stops us from a full commitment to the Lord. There is nothing more important than our personal relationship of friendship with God, and it is worth sacrificing anything for his Kingdom: “the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. When he finds one really valuable pearl, he goes and sells everything to buy that one pearl.” We must be ready to sell everything to have God and his friendship in our lives.
Jesus presents this as the prudent and practical thing to do: any person building a tower would first calculate what he needs; any general going into battle would first assess the prospects of victory before committing his troops. We too must calculate, if our goal is eternal life, exactly what we need to do to attain that goal. Anything that helps us we should embrace, and anything that impedes us we must renounce. Therefore, we need a healthy detachment from people and possessions which can be very good, but which under certain circumstances, can impede our chance of attaining eternal life. In this, Jesus counsels holy prudence, inviting us to make the right choices that will lead us to life everlasting and not those that would leave us to death. Who can grant us this holy prudence? It is the Holy Spirit from above. That is the lesson from the first reading.
Finally, every disciple has to take up the cross. He has to embrace the way of the cross. “Take up your cross daily and follow me.” What he meant to say is that the Christian way is the way of the cross. It is by taking up our daily cross we imitate Jesus, who carried his cross to be faithful to the will of the Father. But the difference is; when we carry the cross, we carry it like Simon of Cyrene, not alone and abandoned to our misery, but alongside Christ, shoulder to shoulder, helping him carry his cross, which is the cross of our salvation. In this sense, it is a privilege that draws us into the intimate company of the Lord, rather than a lonely punishment for our sin. The closer we draw to the Cross, the closer we draw to Christ Himself. That is why he says, “Anyone who does not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”
All of these illustrate that following Christ is serious business and demands resolute dedication. There is no place here for dilly-dallies or shilly-shallies. There is no place for “cafeteria Christians” that, pick and choose what they like in the teaching of Jesus and of the Church. So, it is time for us to question ourselves, how serious are we and how committed are we in our discipleship? How much are we willing to give up for Christ? How willing are we embracing our daily crosses? These are the very personal questions we need to answer individually. Amen
Fr. Showreelu Simham