Mar. 30, 2017

TWENTIETH SUNDAY, YEAR C.

DISCIPLESHIP IS COSTLY 

Today might be called "Mother-in-law's Day", right. They can now deal with their daughters-in-law following permission from today's gospel. How about that? What does it look like to hear of this approval from Christ, "From now on a household of five will be divided: three against two and two against three; the father divided against the son, son against father, mother against daughter, daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law, daughter-in-law against mother-in-law" (Lk.12:53). Oops! Has Christ certified family feud? Has he made the home a wrestling arena? Have war and confusion been religiously approved? Remember, the story I told you sometime of a couple who were in real fights with each other. They called and we started discussing. When asked how everything was at the time, the husband said to me, "Father, at least we have ceasefire at the moment". I will call them after mass to let them know they can call off the ceasefire. War can resume again. Today's reading is a good reference for making troubles. 

That is not true. The opposite is the case. Christ reminds us of the cost of discipleship, the cost of proclaiming and defending the truth. The word of God often times contradicts the way of the world. Take for instance that your family loves to go for sports on a Sunday morning at the expense of going to church. You are not comfortable with that, you want to reverse the tradition but they remain stiff. You let them go while you go to church. Each time you bring up the issue, everyone frowns at you. Will you be quiet about it or keep speaking about your faith? There is a certain challenge that goes with the faith as seen in the gospel of today. Christ talks about the baptism he will still receive, namely suffering for the sake of truth. The bearer of the gospel is always on fire. He is usually concerned with the City of God and how to help his family look towards heaven. He is restless with what he feels. This can generate conflict. 

The man Ebed-melech is a typical example of courage in the first reading. He is the only person who speaks for the prophet Jeremiah. He defends his faith and makes the king change his mind in favor of Jeremiah. The prophet Jeremiah is condemned for speaking up for the truth. He prophesies doom for the people because they had forsaken God. He warns them of impending exile in the hands of the Babylonians but they don't listen. They want him to prophecy calmness, to say what they like to hear. Jeremiah doesn't fall for such triviality. They see him as stoking the fire. They want Jeremiah to suffer. Jeremiah endures much suffering for the message of truth. He is thrown into the cistern. However, God fortifies Jeremiah for the difficult task he has to perform. God promises him, "They will fight against you, but not prevail over you" (Jer.1:19). 

On the other hand, King Zedekiah represents those leaders who compromise Justice. The people tell him that Jeremiah is demoralizing the soldiers and that he is not interested in the welfare of the people. He succumbs to their pressures. He delivers the prophet to them just like Pontius Pilate delivered Christ to the Jews. The king says, "He is in your power". King Zedekiah's interest is in securing his kingship, not in defending the truth. Many parents behave that way today. They fail to rise up to their parental responsibilities especially in the faith. They fear speaking the truth to their children. They fear talking about the faith. They are scared of how the kids would feel. They want to make them feel good. Feeling good means compromise. Feeling good means seeking cheap popularity. That's dangerous way to bring up children. That's why Christ talks about father and son, mother and daughter, fathers/mothers-in-law and sons-/daughters-in-law being in conflict today. 

Imagine you have a child who is keeping an association that makes you uncomfortable. Each time you tell the child to desist from keeping such friends, she gets upset about it. Sometimes, there's fighting between you and this child over who should be her friend. As her dad or mom, you are in quagmire. But this friendship is ruining your daughter. Her friends make her drink, smoke and sometimes do crazy things. She's becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol. You're placed between not making her feel bad and ruining your relationship with her. What do you do? You have to choose the truth. That's the time father becomes divided with son, mother with daughter, and so on. 

The Letter to the Hebrews invites us to persevere in running the race of faith while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. Jesus is the strength of the gospel. He demands of us, "Say the truth and the truth will set you free" (Jn.8:32). Again, Jesus alerts his followers today that the road to discipleship will not be easy. Division will always come up. The reason is because light and darkness will never match. Goodness and evil are never friends. Truth and injustice never dine. Water and oil will never mix. God and the devil are never in alliance. The Christian is motivated by the joy which lies ahead. 

Christ endured strong oppositions, suffered for us to be saved. He died for our sake. The martyrs suffered to the point of shedding their blood. And the bible tells us today, "You have not resisted to the point of shedding blood" (Heb.12:4). We need to recognize that the road to Christianity demands courage. Prophet Jeremiah is an example of the strength which comes from God. He was let down by his people but he didn't give up. God saved him. When you think you are alone in your battle of faith even in the midst of your own people, family and friends, always remember that God is with you. There is the saying that "One does not expect to navigate the length of the Colorado River without experiencing the turbulence of its rapids". 

Christian Faith brings eternal reward, but it doesn't spare us the pangs of suffering and trial. We can summarize today's readings in these words of Christ, "Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved" (Matt.24:9-13). 

May the strength of God's grace sustain us in our struggle. Amen.