Matthew 10:37-42, 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Our Gospel reading from Matthew is very clear about what it costs to be a disciple of our Lord: “…Whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it,” our Lord says. No “ifs,” no “buts.” Just a straightforward imperative. In fact, discipleship should embrace every aspect of our lives, every fiber of our being. Following the way of the cross, we often fall short, like the tower builder who doesn’t lay the foundation well, or the king who marches into battle without a well-conceived plan. And because we are saddled with all kinds of personal effects, both material and spiritual, our Calvary is so much steeper, and so we fall. And so, we fail.
Does discipleship have to cost so much? Unfortunately, yes! Like the dream that we pursue, we have to let go of so many things – to pursue the dream of playing basketball in a foreign land, for instance, demands leaving family and friends behind, things familiar and kindly, stacked in one’s drawer of memorabilia. If someone wishes to follow a certain vocation in life, like becoming a priest or a nun, they have to deny themselves the joy and fulfillment one gets from raising a family. The pursuit of anything of worth in this life of ours always entails giving up something, sacrificing something. There’s always a cost to reaching out for the stars and the moon.
To be a disciple of our Lord, the Gospel reminds us today, actually costs so much more than the pursuit of a dream and success in life. You see, we can always give up on a dream. A friend once told me that his formula for a happy life is simple: when the “going gets tough,” change directions. With dreams and purposes, that I think is possible. But with discipleship? Well, that is etched into our very being. (Sa tagalog pa, nakaukit yan sa ating pagmemeron!)
Our being rests in Jesus. There, I think, lies the pain of being a disciple of Jesus. The cost, the pain: “Whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it…” Taking up our Lord’s cross is demanding and excruciating, so much so that sometimes we find ourselves almost naturally avoiding them. When we encounter beggars and the homeless roaming the streets, we take pity, enough pity I guess to start asking what the authorities are doing about the whole thing. But this pity, unfortunately, is not imbued with enough ‘love’ to turn it into a personal question: What can I do for them? During this time of the coronavirus pandemic, we hear of people we know who are sick and because the virus is contagious, all alone. That news draws pain and compassion from us, but not enough to go out of our fear and comfort to ask, “What might I do for them?” Because our being rests in Jesus, discipleship defines our very being. We try to deny it, but the cost will be to lose our self, our life.
Our being rests in Jesus. And there too lies the joy of being a disciple of Jesus. Oftentimes, when we look at the cost of discipleship, it seems so hopelessly beyond our reach. But Jesus himself is the cross we carry. He is the narrow gate that we have to enter. He is the truth we have to seek; the light we need to illuminate the path we have to trod. And so, we shouldn’t be afraid, no matter how painful the way, because he has already “been there, done that.” Imagine embarking on a journey out of your comfort zone for the first time. A new job, a new home, a new country. A new dawning, if you wish to be poetic about it. There’s pain here. But there’s also the joy of discovering so much more of yourself. “I never thought I had it in me to do great things,” we sometimes tell ourselves in awe. How else could you start a loving family of your own if you did not leave your father and mother? How else could you discover new friends, new riches, new loves, new places if you did not leave your possessions behind? How else could you become better if you did not venture beyond good? Like a good coach once said – “you can’t expect to come up with a different result, especially one that’s superior, if you keep on doing the same thing.”
This then is a fresh vision of Christian discipleship. The demand of Christ to follow his steps is carried into what we must do and what we must become. That is fraught with pain and struggle. A Christian doctor is no longer just engaged in a secular occupation; the doctor is a new incarnation of the healing Christ, who is empowered with the gift of Christ that makes for a more total healing. A Christian mother is no longer merely someone who raises children for God and society. Every act of parenting, each gesture, is an embodiment of a Christian person, a woman enlivened by God’s spirit. The Christian basketball player is no longer simply playing a game, minding all the skills and plays that he was prepared for by his coaches. He plays with the heart of Jesus; he plays for the heart of Jesus. He plays with love, however that is done and possible. In other words, we can be true followers of Christ if we rest our being in Him.
We have a very powerful example of discipleship, of carrying her cross to follow Jesus in St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta! An anecdote told about her shows us just how much she was into Christ. Once she was cleansing the wounds of a dying man. A journalist kept his distance because of the stench. “I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars,” he said. “Neither would I,” was Mother Teresa’s quick reply. It was her love for Christ that motivated St. Teresa’s life-commitment to discipleship. You might say, “I’m no Mother Teresa!” If there’s any consolation to be found in this, just think, “nobody else can be a Mother Teresa.” But we can be ourselves and be genuine disciples of Christ in our own painful and joyful way. Jesus demands all, but he also accepts our stumbling steps. Let us end by taking to heart these words of discipleship from Saint Teresa of Calcutta: “It’s not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving…”
*Delivered during the zoom send-off mass for Thirdy Ravena
**Image from the Internet