Jun. 24, 2017

THE COURAGE OF TRUE DISCIPLESHIP

Readings: 1st- Jer. 20:10-13; 2nd- Rom. 5:12-15; Gospel- Matt. 10:26-33

One of my friends would call it “holy boldness”, that is what today’s readings command. The prophet Jeremiah laments his suffering in the hands of his detractors, “I hear whisperings of many: Terror on every side! Denounce! Let us denounce him” (Jer.20:10). The prophet recognizes the trap set for him by those who oppose his prophecy, including his friends. Their desire is to eliminate him so that the message will be silenced. Jeremiah is on the brink of despair. He seems frustrated by the obstacles on his way. What does he do? On the one hand of Jeremiah’s lamentation depicts his misery, while on the other hand, he recognizes that victory comes from God: “But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph”.

It is significant to follow Jeremiah’s trend of thoughts here. Although he feels threatened, he remains hopeful of victory. Importantly, this victory is not by his own merits but by the omniscient power of God. He switches automatically from lament to singing God’s praises, “Sing to the Lord, praise the Lord, for he has rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked” (Jer.20:13). Jeremiah’s victory foreshadows the grace that is to come through Christ in the New Testament. Saint Paul tells us in the second reading, “For if by the transgression of the one many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many” (Rom.5:15). We are always victorious if we rely on God’s victory in Christ Jesus.

Jesus sends his disciples out in the gospel. He challenges them to a stunning boldness in the face of persecution. Did Jesus predict a smooth ride for the disciples? Of course, no. Jesus already knew the implication of being a disciple because he suffered for declaring himself the Son of God. And he warns as follows, “In the world you will find hardship” (Jn.16:33). Rejection is part of the price for being God’s disciple, the reason being that the disciple will declare unpalatable messages. Jesus commands, “What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops” (Matt.10:27). That sounds like whistleblowing. What do whistleblowers do? They leak hidden information that are correct. They say what upsets. What is the consequence of being a whistleblower? I know our minds are running to Edward Snowden at this moment. That’s not wrong altogether. Like Snowden, whistleblowers suffer because they leak useful information. So, if Christ is sending us to do the job of spiritual whistleblowing, he already anticipates that we’re going to pay the price. He expects us to leak useful information for the salvation of others- “What you hear in whispers, proclaim from the rooftops”. This will surely cost us a lot.

The second step is the demand for courage. In this gospel episode, Christ urges the disciples not to be afraid three different times. He says, “Fear not. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed”. Second, he tells them not to be afraid of those who can only kill the body but not the soul. Third, he asks them not to be afraid because they are worth more than many sparrows. These encouragements acknowledge the strength of God’s love and the supremacy of the gospel over non-truths. One of the remarkable signs of Jesus’ last moments before his execution was the tension he felt as human being. While facing those moments, Jesus instructed his disciples and revealed to them the source of his strength. He remarked that the shepherd would be struck and the sheep would scatter leaving. Then he said to them, “And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me” (Jn.16:32-33). He reminds the disciples of similar thing today, “Even the hair on your hair has been counted. So, do not be afraid” (Matt.10:30).

As Christians, we have a dicey job to do in today’s world. We have great responsibility and challenge in spreading the good news. We face great oppositions and stumbling blocks because many in the society don’t see the relevance of our message. We need “holy boldness” to speak out, to do the job of whistleblowing. Think about how tough it could be to tell your friend the truth of his faults. Think of how tough it is to make someone aware of his mistakes. We had an argument recently, and someone was trying to convince us that the church doesn’t need to keep pointing out people’s sins. Her argument was that the Psalm says, “My sin is always before me” (Ps.51:3). She insisted that if someone’s sin is before her, then there is no need to keep on reminding her about it. That’s to say that we should not even be talking about the crazy things happening in the society. This is like a parent keeping quiet in the face of the nasty things the child is doing. If we follow that logic, you don’t need to remind anyone to stop doing wrong, just watch and smile, even if your smile is fake. That’s the notion of “niceness” that has sunk the society deep into moral and political mess we are in today.

Christ commands us to do the contrary, “What I say to you in darkness, speak in the daylight”. He calls us to courage in our Christian responsibilities. He tells us not to be afraid of those who can destroy the body but do nothing to the soul. Here, we think about those who suffer persecution for the sake of the gospel, those in violent prone areas. That’s correct. Christians die for their faith, but eventually inherit eternal life in the end.

But I wish to address this message to parents in a special way. Most parents today seem too scared of telling the truth to their children. Their excuse is, “I don’t want him to go away, or think that I am forcing him”. You don’t need to force him/her. You only need to communicate the truth in a loving way. Most parents have on the contrary, lost their children because they didn’t tell them what they needed to hear on time. Don’t wait till he becomes a teenager, else you become afraid of him. Begin early enough to speak words of truth, love and joy. Begin early to speak words of blessing. Plant the seed of faith early enough and God will let is germinate. “Do not be afraid”, Christ says. Ironically, many children behave as if they have no family.

For example, I met some children between ages 5 and 10 a few days ago, early in the morning- like 8am. Their teacher was right behind them and these children know me very well. We were so close to each other, but they were just crossing me, not saying a word. I stopped by and said, “Hey, good morning”. But these kids kept going, never said a word to me. They all looked at me (like what the heck is he saying?), and then continued talking among themselves. I had to call all of them back to teach them to say “Good morning” to someone especially their elder. It is a mark of courtesy and respect. And we all did a rehearsal of how to say good morning that day before each person went for our businesses. In the end, we laughed, but they learnt something. Why won’t parents teach their children to say “Good morning”? Why won’t parents insist on letting children know what is good for them? Why do you smile when the child does bad stuff to make her feel good? Such parents are no good disciples.

Parents who fear correcting their child don’t want to lose favor, feel the child would frown at them for some time, right? But that’s your duty. The temporary price is that the child frowns but the payoff is that she learns something and will do better. My message today is that discipleship begins in the home. Christ says, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father”. And I say to you, “Every parent who acknowledges the good before the children, their children will acknowledge back through their good behavior in life”. Our society needs men and women, parents of courage and holy boldness.