Matthew 10:37-42; 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Let us be honest, it’s not easy to follow Jesus, but it’s worth it.
That sums up the message Jesus is trying to communicate to us in today’s Gospel passage – and it’s a message that we constantly need to be reminded of, especially when age and illness become our daily bread.
But Jesus is not a politician but brutally honest. At first, it almost seems like Jesus is trying to discourage us from following him. He warns that friendship with him is demanding.
To be a true friend of Jesus means that everything else has to be put in second place. Everything has to be put on the table, even personal dreams, even family ties. The demands of our friendship with Christ will require us to carry a cross, to sacrifice self-gratifying desires, maybe even to endure great suffering. That sounds hard, painful, for many even unreasonable.
But God knows what he is doing!
And if he has called us to this kind of life style – which he does – it’s only because he knows that this is the path to lasting happiness. If we are truly living for God, to give him glory and to build up his Kingdom in the world, then God will take care of us. We will not lose our reward.
St Paul understood this. This is why he tells us in today’s Second Reading that to share Christ’s life – the life of the redeemed soul, the new life of grace won for us by Christ’s passion and resurrection – we must also share Christ’s death. We have to die to self, to put to death all selfish and self-centered desires, in order to rise with Christ, to live the life of the Spirit, the life that gives true meaning and satisfaction to our lives.
Yes, it is hard to follow Jesus, but it is worth it – nothing else even comes close.
One of St Paul’s most famous phrases summarizes this crucial Christian truth. In his Letter to the Romans, Chapter 8 verse 18 – just two chapters after the passage we just heard – St Paul writes:
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
He doesn’t deny that, as Christians, we will have to suffer in this world, as Jesus promised. But he points out that the goal of our journey is well worth those sufferings. This is the experience of all the saints, and if they could say one thing to us, it might very well be this truth: following Christ faithfully is tough, but it’s worth it!
St Maximilian Kolbe is a particularly eloquent example of how our faith in Christ gives strength and meaning in the midst of this world’s sufferings.
You know that he was a Polish Franciscan arrested by the Gestapo during World War II because of his criticism of Nazism. Eventually, he was sent to the concentration camp of Auschwitz, where he was treated with extra brutality because he was a priest.
We have all heard of the famous incident where a fellow prisoner, a man who was married with children, was condemned by the guards to execution, and St Maximilian Kolbe offered himself in the other prisoner’s place. His offer was accepted and he died with other condemned prisoners in a starvation bunker.
But even before that dramatic finish, he was already bringing Christ’s light into the darkness of the concentration camp.
Here is how a fellow prisoner who survived the camp expressed the inspiring power of Fr Kolbe’s presence, even in that hellish place. He wrote:
“Each time I saw Father Kolbe in the courtyard I felt within myself an extraordinary effusion of his goodness. Although he wore the same ragged clothes as the rest of us, with the same tin can hanging from his belt, one forgot this wretched exterior and was conscious only of the charm of his inspired countenance and of his radiant holiness.”
Whether we follow Christ or not, we will suffer during our earthly journey. But if we choose to suffer with Christ, our suffering will take on a meaning and fruitfulness beyond anything we could have imagined.
Jesus is inviting all of us, once again, to take up our crosses and follow him. He knows that by following him, even
though it’s hard, we will discover the meaning and lasting happiness that we long for.
We cannot respond to his invitation unless we identify what cross he is asking each one of us to take up, and unite it Christ’s own cross.
Maybe your cross is an illness, or the illness of a loved one. – If so, when Jesus comes in the Eucharist, unite your suffering to his.
Maybe you feel fearful of the future, of the uncertainty. That’s why Jesus wants to come to us every day in Holy Communion. He wants to be our strength, our confidence, our courage.
And so he feeds our souls with his soul, our bodies with his body.
This is the love of our God – a love that makes himself present in our lives, no matter what. It is a love that never leaves us alone, and that never leaves us to carry our crosses alone. Yes, Jesus asks us to take up our cross, but only so that, by dying with him, we can also rise with him, and live with him, meaningfully, here and earth and forever in heaven.