TWENTY THIRD SUNDAY OF THE YEAR, C.
CALL TO CHRISTIAN ACTION: "WHOEVER DOES NOT CARRY HIS CROSS AND COME AFTER ME, CANNOT BE MY DISCIPLE" (Lk.14:27)
Think about it this way, Christ is summoning us to sit up and embrace our Christian challenges. The second reading of today gives us a great picture of what these challenges could imply. Paul writes as an old man from prison. Paul is not a criminal, assassin or drug addict. So what is he doing in prison? He is in prison for preaching the gospel, the truth of Christ. He is carrying his cross. From prison, Paul writes a heartfelt letter to Philemon in Colossae about a runaway slave he converted while in prison. His name is Onesimus. Onesimus was a former slave to Philemon. As a Christian leader in Colossae, Philemon has to accept Onesimus no longer as slave but as brother. Paul appeals to him to voluntarily understand what the implications of his Christian beliefs are; "...that you have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me, but even more so to you, as a man and in the Lord" (Philemon 1:16-17). In the passage, Paul brings out an important element of discipleship when he says, "but I did not do anything without your consent, so that the good you do might not be forced but voluntary". Taking up the cross has to be voluntary.
The duty to follow Christ demands great consequences. It demands consuming dedication. Christ says, "If anyone comes after me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple". It is important to put this in proper perspective. Does Jesus command us to live a life that is full of hate? Does he ask us to condemn our family and even our lives or be in enmity with everyone in the world in order to be his disciples? No. Jesus is asking us for total detachment. Remember his encounter with the three different individuals who wanted to follow him with divergent intentions. To the last person who said, "Sir, I will follow you, but first let me go and say good-bye to my people at home, Jesus' response was, "Once the hand is laid on the plough, no one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God" (Lk.9:62). No half-and-half discipleship is allowed with Christ.
We need to understand what being Christians means. We can only understand the call to discipleship by understanding our limitations and resorting to God's help. The first reading presents to us those limitations and highlights the inscrutable ways of God: "Who can know God's counsel or who can conceive what the Lord intends?" Our deliberations are nothing without God's guidance, "and the earthen shelter weighs down the mind that has many concerns". That is why Christ uses the parable of the man who started to build but could not finish in the gospel to illustrate the limitations of the human mind. We have to calculate the cost of following Christ in order to get to the end. The challenges are two dimensional: 1). "Whoever does not carry his own cross" (You must carry your cross). 2). "And come after me" (You must come after Jesus).
In our human experiences, every cross is unique. The cross varies according to the individual. No one can abandon his own or exchange it with another. No one can carry the other person's cross. I have my own cross, you have your own. That's the Christian demand. But each individual must come after Christ while carrying his cross, else the cross weighs him down. That is why Christ tells us, "Come to me, all you who labor and are overburdened, and I will give you rest" (Matt.11:28). Except you come to Christ with your labor, it will be heavy and cumbersome. Except you recognize the rest that comes from Christ, you won't have authentic rest.
Like Paul said to Philemon, the call to discipleship can sometimes go against the human will. It can sometimes contradict our own intention, but we have to understand the mind of God in order to stand firm and follow him. If God is at the center of our actions, they remain simple and joyful. Our family challenges can be overcome by the help of God. Our individual challenges can only be overcome by God. That cross that weighs you down is heavy because you still look at it with the human eye. If you approach life in the spirit of Christ, you will see it as a movement, not as a station. A station can become a dump, but a movement flows; each stage is overcome with optimism and hope. A movement encounters different persons, things along the way, still the journey continues. A movement keeps the end constantly in view. A movement offloads its baggage at different stations, yet the journey continues. The movement heaps the load on the station and keeps moving. Like the train which sets out on a journey, the disciple is on the journey to heaven. The journey gets to different stations along the road. The friendships, the employments, the education, the relationships, the sicknesses, the failures; these are the stations. Your destination is heaven. If you let these experiences weigh you down, you end up only in one station. Think about the stations of the cross. You end up worrying about a particular experience, encounter or individual in your life. Always see the big picture in your journey, and that is Christ. He never lets you end in one station. He never lets sickness, anxiety, lack, disappointment, failure, etc, weigh you down, if you follow him.
Christ would not let your ties with father, mother, brother, sister, husband, wife, friend, etc, become inhibition for following him. He makes those ties means for getting to him rather. He transforms the relationships in your life to good sources. Philemon was invited to view his relationship with Onesimus differently because of Christ. Paul said to him, "...have him back no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a brother". Before then, Onesimus was his slave, a big cross for Philemon to carry. He was transformed into a brother. The cross of having Onesimus back as brother became light for Philemon. You have to make your relationships Christ-centered, and they will be fun. See others as brothers, sisters, in Christ, then you will understand the real meaning of love. You will know how to have them and serve Christ in your life. You will know what it means to detach yourself for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.
Christ calls us to action in our Christian responsibilities today. He wants us to sit up. He wants us to look to him. He wants us to carry our own cross. He wants us to follow him in faith. That cross might be heavy for you, but in Christ, it is made simple and easy.
May the grace of God sustain you as you carry your cross. Amen.