Following Jesus – Munching de Guzman, SJ

Matthew 10:37-42, 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time


There was this man by the name of Clarence Jordan. He was involved in interracial work in Georgia back in the 1950s and 1960s. This work was not a popular occupation in the South then. Tension between blacks and whites was high. Protests paraded down
city streets. Police used dogs and fire hoses to disperse black protesters and white sympathizers.

Soon Clarence’s work came under fire. He turned to his brother, Robert, for legal help. His brother was a prominent Georgia lawyer and politician. Clarence was shocked when his brother refused to help him. And what shocked Clarence most was that his brother and he had committed their lives to Jesus together. When Clarence confronted his brother about his commitment. Robert defended himself, saying: “I follow Jesus, Clarence, up to a point… I follow him to the cross, but not on the cross. I’m not getting myself crucified.”

Clarence looked at his brother and said, “Robert, you are not a follower of Jesus, you are only an admirer of his.” . . . An admirer talks, reflects, discusses and says a lot about Christ, but no works and actions are uttered at all. An admirer sees the cross as something done for us. A follower sees the cross as something done by us. An admirer follows Jesus TO the cross. A follower follows Jesus ON the cross.

Clarence’s remark caused Robert to do some deep soul-searching. “Whoever does not take up his cross and follow in my steps,” says Jesus in today’s Gospel, “is not fit to be my disciple.”

Honestly, I can relate to Robert’s feelings. There are times in my life when my commitment to Jesus is tested to the breaking point. There are times in our lives when the full impact of Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel hits home with frightening force.

Some hardship or tragedy strikes us, and we are tempted not to pick up our cross and follow Jesus. We are tempted to turn away from Jesus and no longer follow in his footsteps – but we admire him still.

For example, it’s hard for a young woman to pick up her cross and follow Jesus after being rejected and cast aside by someone she loved deeply. It’s hard for a man to pick up his cross and follow Jesus after his mother was brought to a hospital for Covid-19 and he’s not allowed to visit her. It’s hard for a young father to pick up his cross and follow Jesus when he does not even know where to get the next meal for his family.

It’s hard for a wife to pick up her cross and follow Jesus when her husband spends his nights away from her and the children. – – Or for a husband who experiences being special at home only on a Father’s Day and the rest of the 364 days is Mother’s Day. It’s hard for a young man to pick up his cross and follow Jesus after a drunk driver has doomed him to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair.

What do these people do when the cross that has suddenly been thrust upon them seems to exceed their strength to carry it? What do we do when a cross suddenly thrust upon us seems to exceed our ability to carry it?

When such a cross find its way into our life, we must recall that there was a time in the life of Jesus when his cross exceeded his strength tocarry it. And when that time came, Jesus had to accept the help of a stranger, Simon of Cyrene.

Think of it! The Son of God, the Saviour of the world, had to admit tohimself and to the world that he lacked the strength to carry his cross – and for him to continue to obey his Father’s will, and not just admire his Father’s will, he allowed a Simon into his life.

If the Son of God had the humility to do this, then certainly we should have the humility to follow suit. When the cross in our life becomes too heavy for us to carry, we should reach out for help as Jesus did.

And to whom do we reach out?

First and foremost, we reach out to Jesus himself. Jesus knows what it feels like to stagger and fall beneath a cross. He knows what it feels like to have to admit a cross has become too heavy to carry alone. He knows what it feels like to have to humble himself and accept help from another.

Besides Jesus, we should also reach out to other people – to a spouse, a parent, a friend, or even to a professional counsellor, if need be. WE ALL NEED HELP AS WELL AS WE ALL NEED TO HELP. WE NEED TO CARRY OUR CROSS, ASK FOR HELP – AND TO HELP OTHERS WHEN HELP IS NEEDED. Great opportunities to seek help and to help others seldom come, but small ones surround us every day. From a Hindu Proverb “Help thy brother’s boat across and lo! Thine own has reached the shore.”

Today’s Gospel invites us to ask ourselves a very humbling question: Are there times in our lives when it becomes next to impossible for us to pick up our cross and follow Jesus? How do we handle it so that we remain a follower and not just an admirer?
How do we respond to people when they reach out to us for help? Do we refuse to help them? Or Do we help them compassionately?

Let us close with a prayer that summarizes the invitation and the
challenge contained in today’s Gospel:
Give us your strength, Lord.
For sometimes things get tough,
And we are ready to quit.
Give us your love, Lord.
Because sometimes people reject us,
And we are tempted to hate.
Give us your eyes, Lord.

Because sometimes life gets dark,
And we lose our way.
Give us your courage, Lord.
Because often we are put under pressure,
And it’s hard to do what is right.
Give us yourself, Lord.
Because our hearts were made for you
And we will not rest until we rest in you.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

*image from the Internet


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