BECOMING A TRUE AND DYNAMIC DISCIPLE OF CHRIST
Today’s readings explain how we should practice true and dynamic Christian discipleship. In the first reading, "His name becomes like fire burning in my heart" - God pursues (seduces) us just as God pursued (seduced) the Prophet Jeremiah.
When Jeremiah began his ministry the people of Israel had become so hardened by the numbing effects of their sinful ways that they no longer believed God, nor did they fear Him. Jeremiah preached for 40 years, and not once did he see any real success in changing or softening the hearts and minds of his stubborn, idolatrous people.
Jeremiah tried to keep a people who lived in an atmosphere of political intrigue and backstabbing faithful to God. He was speaking to a brick wall, to people who simply didn’t care about God or their religion. Judged by this world’s standards Jeremiah’s life was a failure.
He was regarded as a traitor by his own people because, as God's mouthpiece, he had to foretell the dire results that would follow from their plan of revolt against the mighty power of Babylon. His people despised him as a prophet of doom and this further depressed him and he complained bitterly to God. God continues to invite us to do His will, to be His mouth piece and to speak up regardless of whose ox is gored. Often times we do not realize this because we pay no attention to God, and we are all too often seeking comfort and ease in the service of God and His people. Today we are invited to pay attention to God and to know more profoundly how much God loves us and wants us to love Him by carrying out His commands. In the story of Jeremiah we can see how total- self giving to God and to the service of others come with a price.
The second reading today is from the Letter of St Paul to the Romans. Very often we hear about the tradition of offering sacrifice in the Old Testament and a sacrifice is an offering made to God in atonement for sin. In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul urges them to offer their ‘bodies as a living sacrifice’ (Romans 12:1). This kind of offering is a total self-giving for the service of God and people. Total self- giving implies offering God and others nothing less than the best of us. The story of Cain and Abel illustrates how God accepts only an unblemished offering and a sacrifice that is offered whole-heartedly (Genesis 4; Deuteronomy 15:21; Leviticus 22:20; Deuteronomy 17:1). While Abel offered his best sacrifice to God and it was accepted, Cain offered the least offering to God and it was rejected.
The Apostle Paul had paid the price in offering himself as a living sacrifice for the service of different communities and in spreading the word of God. He spoke of his experience thus: "I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked" (2 Corinthians 11:23-27).
Furthermore, we are invited "not to be conformed to the pattern of this world but to be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” We are supposed to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We must dare to be different? The pattern of the present world has nothing to offer us except the distraction of sin, worldliness, consumerism, materialism, sensualism and hedonistic tendencies and lifestyle. So many of us do not take the time to renew our minds and lives. We do not feed our spiritual focus. A Christian is expected to be non-conformist and counter-cultural. In order to be an effective agent of change and conversion, he cannot simply conform to the environment. He has to stand firmly on the Christian principles, even if it means going against the tide of the predominant culture.
In his message during the World Youth Day in Madrid, Pope Benedict XVI urged the young people, “Align your life to the truth, even by making choices that are incomprehensible to the contemporary world.” It is a clear challenge to bring the Gospel to a world that promotes ideas and values that are in conflict with those lived and preached by Jesus. The Pope noted that, “today’s culture, like every culture, promotes ideas and values that are sometimes at variance with those lived and preached by our Lord Jesus Christ. Often they are presented with great persuasive power, reinforced by the media and by social pressure from groups hostile to the Christian faith… Gospel values are once again becoming counter-cultural, just as they were at the time of Saint Paul.” (Address to the young people in Malta, Asia News, April 20, 2010).
This is the real problem nowadays in our modern society. Many Christians are afraid to go against the culture of this world that is increasingly foreign and even averse to the teachings of Christ. Most of us prefer to conform to the standards of this world, simply floating with the tide and current of the day like useless pieces of driftwood. In the process, we lose by default to the forces of death and evil. We watch helplessly as society distorts the objective truth and overturns our moral and spiritual values. Behind this passive and timid attitude of many Christians is the unwillingness to take up the cross. We cannot stand up for the truth and for what is right because do not want to be condemned by modern society as insensitive, intolerant, and politically incorrect. We do not want to be persecuted and ostracized. We are careful not to talk about the intrinsic evil of abortion, contraception, divorce and same sex “marriage” for fear of offending the feelings of others. It seems that many would prefer to offend God rather than people.
In the Gospel narrative, Jesus told his disciples he would offer his own body as a sacrifice for the salvation of the world. The disciples could not comprehend this and Peter would not accept it. They thought that would be a great disgrace upon his name and a sign of weakness. Peter however, decided to remonstrate with Jesus and Jesus rebuked him saying, "get behind me satan, for the way you think is not God's but man's".
Where did Peter go wrong? How is it that he who was called The Rock turned out to be a stumbling block? It is true that he loved Christ and would not want anything bad to happen to him. It is true that those who love us would not want to see anything evil happen to us. Peter was trying to protect Jesus from the shame of the cross, but in doing so he was standing against the will of God.
Jesus says the way of the cross is essential for our salvation and anyone who wants to be his follower must take up his cross and follow him. Today, many preachers are downplaying the message of the cross. The modern day Gospel of prosperity says: “once you are a Christian everything becomes perfect for you and suffering, poverty, pain and sorrows disappear from you and riches and comfort come in.” This is not true. The scripture boldly says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). In another instance Paul confidently declares: “but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23).
Taking the easy way is a very strong and extremely dangerous temptation. Why labor when you can turn stones into bread? Why take the cross when you have the power to avoid it? In his humanity, Jesus must have seriously struggled with this temptation. In Gethsemane, he prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me” (Mt 26:39). His human instinct of self –preservation must have resisted the foreseen humiliation, painful torture and death on the cross. But he was quick to take hold of himself and firmly decide, “Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
This boils down to what are our standards? Jesus pointed out Peter’s standards and quickly exposed it. While we live in this world, we are not of this world. We are pilgrims on our way to eternal life. We ought to be in this world proclaiming the Good News. We are expected to Christify this world as Jesus did. We proclaim His words through words and actions. In everything we say and do, we adopt God’s standards and not ours.
Jesus admonishes us that if any man wants to come after Him, "let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me". Denying one’s self isn’t Christ’s call for us to passively submit to injustices; that would be useless. Denying one’s self calls us to unselfishly live in Christ, to share in His identity and purposes. It means to follow in His intentions not in our own strategies. It means evicting selfish thoughts, desires and tendencies from our hearts and letting God fill our hearts. It also means being cleansed of all evil habits, enthroning God in in our hearts and sharing Him with others. Suffering overcomes evil when we join our sufferings into Christ’s.
Carrying one's cross always means pain and suffering. Our personal sufferings become the cross of Jesus, from ill health, to persecution, to material discomfort or poverty, to injustice; we offer them with him to the Father in reparation for our sins and those of the world; and when we work with the Spirit Who is purifying us through our personal sufferings or penitential practices.
Following Christ implies that as disciples of Christ, we should live our lives according to the word of God by obeying Jesus' commandment of love. Note that One does not overcome violence with greater violence because that only multiplies violence by two. One does not overcome evil by further evil because that only multiplies evil by two. Jesus lived life differently. He stood silently in front of Pilate because He wanted Truth to speak for itself.
Have you ever been mocked or suffered some public disgrace or been criticised, insulted, or discouraged for doing something good? I have come across people who never give up in offering themselves and services to others even in the midst of the most uncharitable criticisms. Self-sacrifice is an on going offering of self to God and for the sake of others.
Sometimes, when we are under the heavy burden of the cross of life, we shout out to God: “Lord, take away this cup from me”, but we must also add, “Let not my will, but yours be done.” The way of the cross and the way of the world seem to be two opposing forces. The way of the cross is the way of Jesus; the way of the world is my own way. Naturally, we tend to oppose anything that will bring us the slightest inconvenience in our lives, but Jesus says: suffering and self- sacrifice have some values for our spiritual growth.
Prayer - Give me the courage Lord, to do your will at all times. Help me to willingly deny myself, take up my cross and follow you faithfully all the days of my life. Amen!!!