How Did Jesus Go From Being a Hero to Being Hated In Less Than a Week?

Although we are well into the Easter season, my mind harkens back to an event on Good Friday that has often puzzled me. What turned the crowd against Jesus? Recall that just six days earlier, on Palm Sunday, the crowds praised Him, acclaimed Him Son of David, and spoke of Him as a king and messiah. By the morning of Good Friday, though, they were calling for Him to be crucified. What turned them against Him?

My usual explanation was to suppose that the Temple leaders hired a crowd of ruffians and coached them on what to say. In other words, I conjectured that these were not the same people who welcomed Jesus on Palm Sunday but rather a carefully selected group assembled on the plaza in front of the governor’s residence (the Praetorium). While it may be true that the Temple leaders coached them, it still raises the question, how were they able to find so many people willing to turn against a man so widely admired and appreciated by the ordinary faithful?

Fr. Antonin-Gilbert Sertillanges gave a thoughtful and insightful analysis of this event and of the crowd’s motivation in his book What Jesus Saw from the Cross. Let us consider Fr. Sertillanges’ explanation of the mood of the crowd. (Note that he does notdiscount that many in the crowd may well have hailed Jesus as Messiah on Palm Sunday.)

At the beginning of his sacred ministry … Jesus had aroused intense enthusiasm …. [But now] what is the grievance? That the leaders of the Jews should have hated Jesus is perhaps intelligible, but the enmity of the crowd is most mysterious. It is only at the last moment that it becomes manifest, and then only under the stimulus of encouragement from the priests (pp. 157-158).

So, Fr. Sertillanges has pondered the mysterious shift in mood of the crowd. And while he notes that there was some stimulus from the Temple leaders, he does not presume that those leaders had gathered the crowd.

[On that Good Friday] morning the crowd assembled for reasons of its own. They have a right to have a prisoner released to them on this day and they are coming to claim that right. Perhaps they are thinking of Barabbas, perhaps of Jesus, who is just at this moment appearing before the tribunal. … Pilate [however] irritates them twice by referring jocularly to [Jesus] as “their king.” [And thus, Jesus now] arouses their division more than their pity: a messiah in chains before a Roman governor? This seems to be the kernel of the matter in the eyes of these Israelites, who were enthusiastic [on Palm Sunday], a few moments ago were in doubt, and now are suddenly hostile and furious (p. 158).

Now Father moves to the psychological shift that takes place:

Mobs do not like to be disillusioned; and the man who disappoints them may pass in a moment from the rank of a national hero to nothing, and even to less than nothing. … Think what a disillusionment it is for the Jews to see Jesus in this [scourged] condition before Pilate. … This is the Pauline “scandal of the cross” (p. 159).

From disappointment they pass to spite, from spite to anger, and under the ceaseless encouragement of their iniquitous leaders they are easily roused to exasperation. The word crosshas been spoken; it is taken up and repeated. … The taste of blood now begins to intoxicate the mob; a thrill of cruelty runs through them all. To any further questions or objections, the maddened crowd has only one reply, given with increasing violence: “Crucify him! Crucify him!” (pp. 159-160)

[And thus, Jesus departs the Preatorium] carrying all his blessings with him. As he processes along the way … the cruel gaiety of this day has gone to everybody’s head. Every savage instinct latent in the heart of man was awake; souls froth over with rage in this anticipatory delegation of those in every generation who would hate and oppose Christ vented itself in the cry of Satanic joy (p. 161).

Going even deeper into the cause of their disillusionment, Fr. Sertillanges ponders:

And yet, [at a deeper spiritual level] the problem still remains: how did this transformation which we have described become possible?

The mystics tell us that a great moral lapse is always preceded by hidden causes. [Some have noted that] the Jewish masses at that time were prone to mystical curiosity and superstitious practices. The success that Jesus achieved among the masses was due to the [messianic] interests of the moment and the enthusiasm aroused by his miracles, the fascination of his discourse, and to the sardonic satisfaction of hearing their leaders criticized and of seeing them defied …. [This explains their attraction to Jesus] more than a fully convinced adherence to Jesus and his teaching (pp. 161-162).

The people had become dazzled, not convinced, and their carnal expectations were disappointed. Jesus as a political Messiah … Casting off the Roman yoke, the abolition of taxes and the return of the Jews of the dispersal, this is what would have won them over. But the aims and the doctrines of the Savior were not of this kind; and this is the reason why, as soon as they see their selfish hopes disappointed, the crowd turned against him. Their favor becomes hostility (p. 162).

This is quite a rich examination of the puzzling shift in the mood of the crowd.To Father’s reflection I can only add that St. Paul calls the cross a stumbling block to Jews because Deuteronomy (21:23) says, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.” As they beheld Jesus horribly scourged, a prelude to crucifixion, they judge Him cursed by God and bitterly dismissed the idea that He could be the Messiah they hoped for.

There much to ponder in Fr. A.G. Sertillanges’ What Jesus Saw from the Cross. It is rich in history and spirituality and I highly recommend it for your reading.

No Cross, No Crown – A Homily for the the 29th Sunday of the Year

In the Sunday Gospel, the Lord Jesus speaks of crosses and crowns. The apostles have only crowns in mind, but Jesus knows the price of the crown. So, He must teach them and us that crowns—the things we value most—come only through the cross.

It may help to review the context of this Gospel. Jesus is making His final journey to Jerusalem. He is on his way to the cross and has already announced this to His disciples on two occasions. Throughout Jesus’ final journey, the apostles prove unwilling and/or incapable of grasping what He is trying to teach them.

This Sunday’s Gospel is a perfect illustration of a common biblical theme that I refer to as the inept response. It is a common situation in the Gospels wherein Jesus presents a profound teaching, yet within a matter of verses or sometimes even just a few words, the apostles demonstrate that they have absolutely no understanding of what He has just told them.

You may recall that in the Gospel readings for the previous two Sundays, the Lord gave critically important teachings. Two weeks ago, he stood a young child in their midst and spoke of the child as being truly great. He also warned that we must be able to receive the Kingdom of God like a little child. Last week, He warned of the pernicious effects of wealth and spoke about how hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Despite these recent teachings, this Sunday’s Gospel opens with James and John (and later all the apostles) wishing honors upon themselves. They want seats at the head of the table, high offices in the Kingdom, which they still conceive of in worldly terms. Never mind that Jesus has taught them that the place of honor is not at the head or even the foot of the table; the honor is upon those who serve those at the table.

The apostles (and we) just don’t understand, no matter how clear Jesus is or how often He repeats Himself.

Let’s look at today’s Gospel in three stages.

Misplaced Priorities – The Gospel begins in this way: James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” He replied, “What do you wish me to do for you?” They answered him, “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.”

James and John ask an inept question and even demand to sit in places of honor. This is a misplaced priority. Their understanding of the place of honor is worldly. Further, they want to move to the head of the table. They want the Lord to grant them this honor. Even in a worldly way of thinking, places of honor must usually be earned. Although some people are born into royalty, most attain leadership and honors only after years of effort. Thus, even from a worldly point of view, James and John are being overly bold, exhibiting little understanding that prior to honors comes labor, comes the earning of those honors. They want the crown without the cross.

Major Price – The Lord Jesus replies to them, “You do not know what you are asking! Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”

Was Jesus astonished, amused, or saddened? It is not easy to say, but clearly James and John had absolutely no idea what they were asking—and neither do we. Too often we want blessings, honors, or seats in high places, but give little thought to the crosses that are necessary to get there and to stay there.

Those who finally attain leadership often understand what a cross it is. It can be lonely. There are many pressures and long hours of toil. True leadership has its benefits, but it is hard. Most leaders know also the sting of criticism.

There is an old joke among bishops that goes something like this: “When a man becomes a bishop, two things are certain: he will never again have a bad meal, and he will never again hear the truth.” Leaders in many other walks of life can relate to this.

The Lord Jesus wonders whether James and John have any idea what they are really asking. His question is also poignant, for He has been trying to teach them of the passion, the pain, the crucifixion that awaits Him, and which even He, the Lord of glory, must endure before entering into His glory. No, they do not know what they are asking; they just don’t get it.

This must make the Lord very sad. Sometimes we underestimate the suffering Jesus endured long before the garden of Gethsemane that fateful night, when His passion began in earnest. Prior to that evening, the Lord endured a kind of death by a thousand cuts: enemies trying to trap Him, crowds wanting medical miracles but no true healing, strident and judgmental religious leaders, and disciples who walked away from Him as he taught about the Eucharist. Even the Twelve, to whom He looked for friendship, seemed completely disconnected from what He was trying to teach them. He also knew that one of them would betray Him, another would deny Him, and all but one would abandon Him, never making it to the foot of the cross. Oh, the grief that they gave the Lord!

Oh, the grief that we continue to offer up! How we continue to offend His external glory and be difficult cases for Him! How easy it is for us to be hardheaded and stubborn, to have necks of iron and foreheads of brass! No, we should not be so quick to scorn the apostles because we do the same things.

The Lord can only remind them and us of the monumental price, the true cost. No cross, no crown! Ultimately, Heaven costs everything, for we must leave this world behind to reach it. The Easter Sunday of glory, whether in this world or in the world to come, is accessed only by a journey through Good Friday.

It is a major price, but it is one that James and John seem to dismiss. They simply state, categorically, that they are able to drink the cup that the Lord drinks and to be baptized into His death. They have no idea what they’re talking about, however, and neither do most of us.

Medicinal Prescription – The text continues, They said to him, “We can.” Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared.” When the ten heard this, they became indignant at James and John. Jesus summoned them and said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Thus, the other apostles join in the inept response by becoming indignant that James and John are trying to get special dibs on the seats of honor. Their indignity simply shows that they also have no idea what the Lord is talking about.

The Lord tries to bring the big picture of the cross down to earth. He tries to make it plain, saying that the greatest in the kingdom is the servant of all, indeed the slave of all. It is not those who sit at the head of the table, the foot of the table, or any place at the table at all who are the greatest; the greatest are those who serve at the table.

Do they understand? Probably not, but neither do we. It takes most of us a lifetime before we finally get it through our thick skulls that the point in life is not to have the corner office with the view. We have everything upside down, backwards. We are not rich in what matters to God. We think of bank accounts, prestigious addresses, the square footage of our houses, high salaries, and impressive titles—not service.

We may be on our death beds before we finally realize that the greatest people in our lives are those with the ministry of care, those who feed us, those who change our bandages and give us basic care.

Like the apostles, we can be so foolish. At our final judgment, God will not care about the square footage of our house, our titles, or our worldly honors. What will capture His attention is the times when we served, when we gave a cup of cold water to the thirsty or food to the hungry, when we instructed the ignorant, when we prayed for the dying, when we cared for the needs of the poor. He will look for the calluses and the wounds of our service. He will listen for our proclamation of His Kingdom. He will tell us that what we did for the least of our brothers, we did for Him.

Don’t miss the point: there is no crown without the cross. In the Kingdom, honors and crowns are reserved for those who serve, who take up the cross of washing the feet of others, of going to the lowest of places.

In the Gospel this Sunday, the Lord speaks of crosses and crowns—in that specific order. We will not, we cannot, gain any crown in His Kingdom without being baptized into His death, into His cross, into the humble servitude of dying for others in loving service.

Not Your Average Messiah – A Homily for the 24th Sunday of the Year

Jesus is Messiah and Lord, but He confounds every notion we have ever had about these titles. His power reaches perfection in “weakness” and He reigns from the cross. To the world this is utter absurdity, but the Lord insists that we meet Him at the cross. He chooses the foolish to shame the wise; He chooses the weak to shame the strong; He chooses the lowly and despised things of the world—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are (cf 1 Cor 1:27-28). Let us journey to the cross and meet Him there; let us endure a little of His “folly.”

Our journey begins at Cesarea Philippi, a town “way up yonder” in pagan territory.

I. Confusion – Jesus begins by asking the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They said in reply, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets.”

First, note that not only are many different opinions put forth, but all of them are wrong.

There are many today who think it advisable for the Church to change her teachings based on what “the people” are saying or think is “right.” Yes, we should just take a poll and find out what the people want! So often we are called out-of-date because we do not conform to current (passing) opinions.

The premise, of course, is that we live in “enlightened” times and that if only the Church would just conform to current “wisdom” her halls would be full. Any look at most of the mainline liberal Protestant denominations puts the lie to this. For all their conformity to modern sensibilities, they are far emptier than any Catholic church (or those of the Evangelical denominations).

Further, the “poll” results delivered by the disciples in this passage are all wrong—every one of them. Collecting everyone’s opinion does not produce the truth.

Thus, we ought to acknowledge that there is a lot of confusion and divided opinion in the world; we should be careful about taking cues from the world when it comes to religious, moral, and lasting truth. Even in the physical sciences, which claim to be so objective, there is a considerable shifting of even fundamental premises over time. Further, there is often division among scientists and medical experts over even basic matters.

We do well to approach this world’s teachings and claims soberly, realizing that even in worldly matters, let alone religious ones, the world is divided and sometimes just plain wrong.

The question remains: Who is Jesus Christ and how will the answer be given?

II. Committee – Having rejected poll results as a valid way of determining the truth, Jesus tries to sample the experts. Surely even if the general populace cannot supply the answer, they can. The question now gets posed to the “blue-ribbon panel,” the twelve Apostles: And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?”

Now we may wish to rush ahead to Peter’s answer, but first let us note that, as a body, the apostles are not able to return a verdict. What we get is silence.

III. Confession – Finally the correct answer comes forth: Peter said to him in reply, “You are the Christ.” Then [Jesus] warned them not to tell anyone about him.

The manner in which God provides the correct answer to us is developed more fully in Matthew’s version, which adds the following: Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matt 16:17-19).

Hence, we are taught that God the Father anointed Peter with this knowledge and inspired him to speak it for the others. This is the basis of our confidence that Peter and his successors, the popes, are inspired to proclaim the faith infallibly, not on account of their own learning but on account of the grace of God. And while the pope generally works with the college of bishops, his affirmation of their deliberations is essential for formal teachings on faith or morals.

Peter’s declaration is true and correct: Jesus is the Christ. However, Peter and the others still need to grow to a deeper understanding of the full implications of the true Faith. Just as Jesus will lead them to understand it, so too has He led the Church to a deeper understanding over the centuries.

IV. Clarification – Jesus draws them to deeper understanding: He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days. He spoke this openly.

Although Peter has spoken rightly, calling Jesus the Messiah, the term “Messiah” was widely misunderstood at that time. The misunderstanding was rooted in an incomplete reading of messianic prophecy. Most Jews of the time thought of the Messiah as a powerful military figure who would usher in a bloodbath, a career of conquest against the Romans; that is how this “Messiah” would reestablish the Kingdom of David in all its glory. It was a worldly and political view of the Messiah, one which Jesus rejected. Instead, He would more likely refer to passages such as these:

The Lord GOD opens my ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned back. I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting. The Lord GOD is my help; therefore, I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame. He is near who upholds my right; if anyone wishes to oppose me, let us appear together. Who disputes my right? Let that man confront me. See, the Lord GOD is my help; who will prove me wrong? (Is 50:5-9)

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. (Is 53:5)

Jesus clarifies what the Messiah must be: a suffering servant who dies so that His people don’t have to.

V. The Cross – Then things get tense for a moment: Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”

Peter, correct just a moment ago, now needs rebuke, but Jesus is willing to work with him. He was right that Jesus was Messiah, but now he needs to understand more deeply what that really means. The Lord calls him away from the world’s notions and the opinions of sinful humanity.

After this, Jesus gets personal. He now tells them that not only will He take up a cross, but so must they.

Talk about not taking an opinion poll! Could anything rate lower on an opinion poll than the cross? Indeed, if one were to take a poll today, there would likely be no crosses at all, only pillows and buffet tables.

The cross is a paradox if there ever was one: from the cross comes life.

Even the world once had some notion of this. What do we have (that we value) that does not involve some sacrifice? A college degree, a career, children, a home, a television—all of them are the fruit of labor, of sacrifice. Too many today want blessings without sacrifice. If we want something, we “charge it.” We spend money we don’t have in order to possess things we have not earned. Welcome to $13 trillion in U.S. household debt, which of course no one should have to “suffer” to pay down. Indeed, the cross has largely been set aside.

But not for Jesus and not for us. To be true Christians we must embrace the cross. Oftentimes this means doing what is hard. It is easy to give way to temptation; it is harder to withstand it. It is easy to be greedy; it is harder to be generous. It is easy to fornicate; it is harder to be chaste. It is easy to file for divorce; it is harder to work things out. It is easy to do what everyone else is doing; it is harder to be a witness or a martyr. It is easy to do what is sinful and self-serving; it is harder to do what is right.

Yes indeed, the cross is what it is—hard, but there is life that comes from it. I am a witness (and I hope you are too) that to the degree I have embraced the often-harder choice of following God’s way, I have been blessed. The chaste avoid lust’s fires, not to mention child support, alimony, and sexually transmitted diseases. The generous have powerful friends in the poor, not to mention being less addicted to money and possessions. Those who fear the Lord have simpler lives than those who must ingratiate themselves to often-contradictory crowds, compromising at every moment.

In today’s Gospel reading we have been led to a deeper understanding of Jesus Christ. Who is He? Does He hold a worldly kingdom and offer merely passing prosperity? Is He just a divine butler who “steps and fetches” to meet our needs? Or is He the Lord, whom we must obey and who tells us to meet Him at the cross? Ask the martyrs; inquire of the saints. They will tell you of the cross, but they will also shout of the victory.

Jesus is Lord and Messiah, but He will not fight on the world’s terms. He conquers darkness with light, hatred with love, and pride with humility. He gives life by dying and bestows joy by sacrifice. He is Messiah, but on His terms not ours. His “weakness” conquers the strong; His “folly” confounds the learned and clever.

No, He’s not your average Messiah.

This song says, “If you can’t stand a little disappointment … if you think you should always be up and never down, I’ve come to remind you: No cross, no crown.”

By Breaking a Wooden Yoke, You Forge an Iron Yoke!

This Monday is the feast of the Transfiguration, which means that we missed reading a powerful passage from the Book of Jeremiah that was otherwise assigned to Monday of the 18th week of the year. It is practical, profound, and sweeping in its implications, and it comes to us from the Lord through the mouth of Jeremiah the Prophet:

By breaking a wooden yoke, you forge an iron yoke! (Jeremiah 28:13)

Rather than looking at the historical meaning (i.e., that God was going to use Assyria to humble Israel), let’s consider what it means for us today.

What is the wooden yoke if it is not the cross? Indeed, the Lord says as much: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Matt 11:28-30).

The Lord has a paradoxical answer for us who labor and are heavenly burdened. He tells us to take the yoke and burden that He has for us. The yoke is a symbol for the cross, and like most yokes, it connects us with another—the Lord! To be sure, God does have a yoke for us. We do need purification and discipline. However, the yoke He has for us is “easy.” The Greek word used is χρηστός (chrestos), which also has the connotation of being well-fitting, serviceable, or adapted to its purpose. The Lord’s yoke for us is productive unto the end He has in mind: our healing and salvation.

Do not turn the yoke (cross) into something abstract or think of it only in terms of major things such as cancer. The cross also has real, practical, daily dimensions such as exercising self-control and moderation. The cross (yoke) includes resisting sin, forgiving, and living chastely and courageously despite difficulties or persecution. These crosses are common to all true Christians. There are also some specific crosses that each of us carries, ones that the Lord permits for our humility and purification. Perhaps it is a physical illness or infirmity; maybe it is a spiritual emotional struggle; perhaps it is the loss of a loved one, job, or home.

These things are the wooden yoke, the cross of the Lord, and He carries it with us for we are yoked with Him (praise God). Because these burdens are from Him, they are well-suited to us; they are just what we need to avoid even worse things, including Hell itself.

What if we break and cast aside the wooden yoke, as many do today by ridiculing the Christian moral vision and the wisdom of the cross given to us by Jesus?

By breaking a wooden yoke, you forge an iron yoke! (Jeremiah 28:13)

How is this? Consider the toll that indulging in the moment can take. In rejecting the wooden yoke of moderation, chastity, and the limits of God’s moral law, we forge the iron yoke of addiction, obesity, financial trouble, sexually transmitted diseases, broken families, and all the heartache that follows. Pornography, lust, alcohol, and drugs enslave with an iron yoke. In refusing the grace to forgive, we fuel violence and conflict. Many wars in the world today are fought over grievances that stretch back hundreds or even thousands of years. Our greed fuels an insatiable desire for more, and we begin to live beyond our means or to live in such a way that bring us more stress than happiness. Even the simple neglect of our daily duties causes work to pile up and seem overwhelming.

All of these are like iron yokes; they come upon us because we break the wooden yoke of the cross. To be sure, fulfilling our daily duties, living moderately, chastely, and soberly are all crosses because they involve some degree of self-denial, at least in the moment. However, the wooden yoke is a lot easier than the iron yoke that results if we cast aside the more manageable, and well-fitting yoke of the cross.

Pay attention, fellow Christian, Satan is a liar. He offers to lift the gentle yoke of the Lord. He expresses “outrage” that the Lord should require any suffering or discipline from us. He “takes our side” and utters a complaint on our behalf, but he is a liar and a fraud. Once we let him lift the wooden yoke he locks us in an iron yoke. Do not forsake the wooden yoke of the cross, for if you do, an iron yoke is sure to follow.

It is a simple pearl of wisdom, yet it is so often ignored: By breaking a wooden yoke, you forge an iron yoke! (Jeremiah 28:13)

The Cross Always Wins – A Homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent

To the world and to those what are perishing, Sunday’s Gospel is utter madness, utter foolishness. Christ in effect declares that dying (to this world) is the only way to true life. While the world’s so-called wisdom holds that the way to life is through power, prestige, possessions, and popularity, Jesus says that in order to find true life, one must die to all that. This seems to be a paradox. The true gospel (not a watered down, compromised one) is a real insult to the world.

Indeed, most of us struggle to understand and accept what the Lord is saying, but He can give us a heart for what really matters, a heart for Him, for love, and for the things awaiting us in Heaven. The way to this new life is through the cross. Jesus had to go to the cross and die to give us this new life. We, too, must go to His cross and die with Him to this world’s agenda in order to rise to new life.

To those who would scoff at this way of the cross, there is only one thing to say, “The cross wins. It always wins.”

Let’s examine the Lord’s paradoxical plan to save us and bring us to new life.

I The Plan of Salvation that is acclaimed – As the Gospel opens we find a rather strange incident. The text says, Some Greeks who had come to worship at the Passover Feast came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

What is odd is Jesus’ apparent overreaction to the simple fact that some Greeks wish to speak to Him. From this seemingly simple and unremarkable (to us) fact, Jesus senses that His “hour” has now come. Yes, the time has come for His glorification, that is, His suffering, death, and resurrection. He goes on later to say, “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Now is the time of judgment on this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” He said this indicating the kind of death he would die.

Yes, all this because certain Greeks (i.e., certain Gentiles) want to talk to Him.

Even more remarkable is that nothing in the text indicates that Jesus actually goes over to speak to them. Having given this stunning soliloquy and announced that the drama was to unfold, Jesus does not appear to have gone over to the Greeks to evangelize them. We will see why this in a moment.

First, let us examine why this simple request kicks off the unfolding of Holy Week. In effect, the arrival of the Gentiles fulfills a critical prophecy about the Messiah, wherein He would gather the nations unto Himself and make of fractured humanity one nation, one family. Consider two prophesies:

  • I come to gather nation of every language; they shall come and see my glory. just as the Israelites bring their offering to the house of the Lord in clean vessels. Some of these I will take as priests and Levites says the Lord …. All mankind shall come to worship before me says the Lord (Is 66:18, 23).
  • And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, every one who keeps the Sabbath, and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant—these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples (Is 56:6-7).

Thus we see that one of the principle missions of the Messiah would be to save not only the Jews but all people and to draw them into right worship and unity in the one Lord. Jesus explicitly states elsewhere His intention to gather the Gentiles:

I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd (John 10:14).

So it is that this apparently simple request of the Greeks (Gentiles) to see Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, carries such significance.

Why did Jesus not run and greet them at once? Simply put, the call and salvation of the Gentiles must wait for His death and resurrection to be accomplished. It will be His atoning death that will reunite us with the Father and with one another. A simple sermon or slogan like “Can’t we all just get along” isn’t going to accomplish the deeper unity necessary. Only the blood of Jesus can bring true Shalom with the Father and with one another; only the blood of Jesus can save us.

Consider this text from Ephesians:

But now in Christ Jesus you [Gentiles] who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who has made us both {Jews and Gentiles] one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. (Eph 2:13ff)

Thus, nothing but the blood of Jesus can make us whole, can save us, or can make us one with the Father or with one another. There is no true unity apart from Christ, and He secures it by His blood and the power of His cross. Only by baptism into the paschal mystery do we become members of the Body of Christ and find lasting unity, salvation, and true peace.

The door has opened from the Gentiles’ side, but Jesus knows that the way through the door goes by way the cross. His apparent delay in rushing to greet the Gentiles makes sense in this light. Only after His resurrection will He say, Go therefore and make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19). Now there is the power through baptism to make all one in Christ. The price of our salvation, our new life, our peace with one another and the Father, is the death and resurrection of Jesus. Thank the Lord that Jesus paid that price. The old hymn “At Calvary” says, “Oh, the love that drew salvation’s plan! Oh, the grace that brought it down to man! Oh, the mighty gulf that God did span! At Calvary!”

II. The Plan of Salvation applied – Jesus goes on to say, Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me.

Now while it is true that Jesus pays the price for our peace and our unity with the Father and with one another, it is also true that He sets forth a pattern for us and applies it. Note that Jesus says, “Amen, amen I say to you …. He also says, “Whoever serves me must follow me.”

Thus the pattern of His dying and rising to new life must also be applied to the pattern of our life. If we seek unity and peace and want to enjoy this new life with the Father, we must die so as to rise again. We must follow in the footsteps of Jesus. If we want peace we have to be willing to accept the pattern of dying for it and rising to it.

How must we die for this? We have to die to:

  • our ego
  • our desire for revenge
  • our hurts from the past
  • our desire to control everything
  • our sinful and unbiblical agendas
  • our irrational fears rooted in ego and exaggerated notions
  • our hatreds
  • our unrealistic expectations
  • our stubbornness
  • our inflexibility
  • our impatience
  • our unreasonable demands
  • our greed
  • our worldliness

Yes, we have to be willing to experience some sacrifices for unity and to obtain new life. We have to let the Lord put a lot of sinful and unhealthy drives to death in us. New life does not just happen; peace and unity do not just happen. We have to journey to them through Calvary. We must allow the Lord to crucify our sinful desires and thereby rise to new life.

But remember, the cross wins; it always wins.

III. The Plan of Salvation at day’s end – Jesus speaks of a great promise of new life but presents it in a very paradoxical way. He says, Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.

In other words, if we are not willing to follow the pattern He sets forth of dying to ourselves and to this world, we cannot truly live. If we go on clinging to our worldly notions of life, if we live only for ourselves, if we live only for power, possessions, popularity, and prestige, we are already dead. Indeed, if we live only for the things of this world (and many do), ours will be a cruel fate, for we will die and lose all.

If we allow the Lord to help us die to this world’s agenda and to its pathetic charms, then and only then can we pass increasingly to real life, to true unity with the Father and to deeper unity with one another in Christ. Only then does a newer, deeper life dawn upon us. Only then do we see our lives dramatically transformed day to day.

Jesus had to die to give this to us. In order to have it bestowed on us we must be configured to Christ’s death to this world so that we can live in Him and find this new life. We die to a sinful and overrated world so as to live in a whole new way in a life open to something richer than we could ever imagine.

Note that Jesus calls this new life “eternal life.” Eternal life means far more than living forever. While not excluding the notion of endless length, eternal life at a deeper level has more to do with its fullness.

For those who know Christ, this process has already begun. Now that I am well past age fifty, my bodily life has suffered setbacks, but spiritually I am more alive than I ever was at twenty. Just wait until I’m eighty! Our bodies may be declining, but if we love and trust Christ, our souls are growing younger and more vibrant, more fully alive. Yes, I am more joyful, more serene, more confident, less sinful, less angry, less anxious, more compassionate, more patient, and more alive!

All of this comes from dying to this world little by little and thereby having more room for the life Christ offers.

What is the price of our peace and our new life? Everything! We shall only attain to it by dying to this world. While our final physical death will seal the deal, there are the thousand little deaths that usher in this new life even now. Our physical death is but the final stage of a lifelong journey in Christ. For those who know Christ, the promise then will be full. For those who rejected Him, the loss will be total.

Again from the hymn “At Calvary”: “Now I’ve given Jesus everything, Now I gladly own Him as my King, Now my raptured soul can only sing of Calvary!”

Yes, the promise is real, but it is paradoxically obtained. The world calls all this foolishness. You must decide. Choose either the “wisdom” of this world or the “folly” of Christ. You may call me a fool, but make sure you add that I was a fool for Christ. I don’t mind. The cross wins; it always wins.

A Different Look at the Cross

When I was young and throughout my seminary years, I usually contemplated the crucifix and Jesus’ suffering on the Cross somberly. It was my sin that had put Him there, that had made Him suffer. The Cross was something that compelled a silent reverence in me, and suggested that I meditate deeply on what Jesus had to endure. I would often think of John, Mary, and the other women beneath the Cross, mournfully beholding Jesus’ slow, painful death.

These were heavy and somber notes, but deeply moving themes.

In addition, the crucifix made me think about the fact that I would have to carry a cross and go through the Fridays of my life. I needed to learn the meaning of sacrifice.

Liturgically, I saw the crucifix as a way of restoring greater reverence in the Mass. Through the 1970s and 1980s, most parishes had removed crucifixes, quite often replacing them with “resurrection crosses,” or just an image of Jesus floating in mid-air. I used to call this image “touchdown Jesus” since it so closely resembled a football referee indicating a score. In those years we had moved away from the understanding of the Mass as a sacrifice; we were more into “meal theology.” The removal of the crucifix from the sanctuary was a powerful indicator of this shift. Many priests and liturgists saw the Cross as too somber a theme for their vision of a new and more welcoming Church, upbeat and positive.

This Cross-less Christianity often led to what I thought was a rather silly, celebratory style of Mass in those years, and I came to see the restoration of the crucifix as necessary to bring back proper balance. I was delighted when, through the mid-1980s and later, the Vatican began insisting in new liturgical norms that a crucifix (not just a cross) be prominent in the sanctuary and visible to all, and further, that the processional cross had to bear the image of the crucified.

Balance Restored – I was (and still am) very happy about these new norms because they restore the proper balance. The Mass is a making-present of the once-for-all, perfect sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross; it is also a sacred meal, whose power comes from that sacrifice. I also believed that such a move would help restore proper solemnity to the Mass, and to some extent that has occurred.

All of this background is just to say that I saw the cross — the crucifix — in somber, serious tones. The theme was meant to instill solemnity and encourage meditation on the awful reality of sin and on our need to repent.

But the Lord wasn’t finished with me yet; He wanted me to see another understanding of the Cross.

He wanted me to also experience the “good” in Good Friday, for the Cross is also a place of victory and love, of God’s faithfulness and our deliverance. There’s a lot to celebrate at the foot of the Cross.

It happened one Sunday during Lent of 1994, one of my first in an African-American Catholic parish. It being Lent, I expected the typically celebratory quality of Mass in the parish to be scaled back a bit. Much to my surprise, though, the opening song began with an upbeat, toe-tapping gospel riff. At first I frowned, but then the choir began to sing:

Down at the Cross where my Savior died,
Down where for cleansing from sin I cried,

There to my heart was the blood applied;
Glory to His name!

Ah, so this was a Lenten theme! It was odd to me to hear the Cross being sung of so joyfully.

This was quite new for me. Perhaps it shouldn’t have been, but it was. The Catholicism of the 1970s and 1980s with which I was familiar found it necessary to remove the cross in order to celebrate, but here was celebration with and in the Cross!

The choir continued,

I am so wondrously saved from sin,
Jesus so sweetly abides within;

There at the Cross where He took me in;
Glory to His name!

The congregation and choir were stepping in time and clapping, rejoicing in the Cross, seeing it in the Resurrection light of its saving power and as a glorious reflection of God’s love for us. Up the aisle the procession wound. The last verse was transposed a half-step up to an even brighter key:

Oh, precious fountain that saves from sin,
I am so glad I have entered in;

There Jesus saves me and keeps me clean;
Glory to His name!

Yes, indeed, glory to His name! A lot of dots were connected for me that day. The Cross indeed was a place of great pain, but also of great love. There was grief, but there was also glory; there was suffering, but there was also victory.

Please do not misunderstand my point. There is a place and time for quiet, somber reflection at the foot of the Cross, but one of the glories of the human person is that we can have more than one feeling at a time, even conflicting ones.

Balance – Some in the Church of the 1970s and 1980s rejected the Cross as too somber a theme, too negative. They wanted to be more upbeat, less focused on sin; and so, out went the Cross. There was no need to do this, and it was an overreaction. At the Cross, the vertical, upward pillar of man’s pride and sin is transected by the horizontal, outstretched arms of God’s love. With strong hand and outstretched arms, the Lord has won the victory for us: there at the Cross where he took me in, glory to his name!

The balance is both for the individual and for the Church. Some prefer a more somber meditation on the Cross to prevail, while others feel moved by the Spirit to celebrate joyfully at the foot of the Cross. The Church needs both. I suppose we all need some of both experiences. Yes, it is right to weep at the Cross, to behold the awful reality of sin, to remember Christ’s sacrifice; but we should rejoice, too, for the Lord has won the victory for us, right there: Down at the Cross. There’s a lot of good in Good Friday.

Here is the song I heard that Sunday in 1994, sung in very much the style I remember.

Trademarks of the True Messiah – A Homily for the 22nd Sunday of the Year

In Sunday’s Gospel the Lord firmly sets before us the need for the cross, not as an end in itself, but as the way to glory. Let’s consider the Gospel in three stages.

I.  The Pattern that is Announced – The text says, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.

The Lord announces not only the Cross but also the Resurrection. In effect, He announces the pattern of the Christian life, which we have come to call the “Paschal Mystery.”

The expression “Paschal Mystery” refers to the suffering, death, resurrection, and glorification of Jesus as a whole. The word “Paschal” is related to the Hebrew word for Passover, “Pesach.” Just as the shed blood of a lamb saved the people from the angel of death and signaled their deliverance, so does Jesus’ death, his Blood, save us from death and deliver us from slavery to sin.

So He is announcing a pattern: the Cross leads somewhere; it accomplishes something. It is not an end in itself; it has a purpose; it is part of a pattern.

St. Paul articulates the pattern of the Paschal Mystery in this way: We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body (2 Cor 4:10). It is like an upward spiral in which the cross brings blessings we enjoy. We often circle back to the crosses God permits, but then there come even greater blessings and higher capacities. Cross, growth, cross, growth—so the pattern continues until we reach the end, dying with Christ so as to live with Him.

This is the pattern of our life. We are dying to our old self, to this world, to our sins; but rising to new life, rising to the Kingdom of God and becoming victorious over sin. The cross brings life; it is a prelude to growth. We die in order to live more richly. An old spiritual says of this repeated pattern that “every round goes higher, higher.”

Do you see the pattern that Jesus announces? Neither the Lord not the Church announces the cross so as to burden us. No, the cross is part of a pattern that, if accepted with faith, brings blessing, new life, and greater strength.

II.  The Prevention that is Attempted – The text says, Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

Notice Peter’s exact wording: “No such thing shall ever happen to you.” We ought to ask, “What such thing?” Peter, in precluding that Jesus suffer and die, also implicitly blocks the rising and glorification of Jesus, for Christ cannot rise unless He dies.

Peter, of course, is not thinking this all the way through—but neither do we when we seek to avoid crosses for ourselves or to hinder others improperly from accepting their crosses. The cross brings glory and growth; we run the risk of depriving ourselves and others of these if we rush to eliminate all the demands and difficulties of life. We may do this through enabling behaviors or perhaps by spoiling our children.

We also hinder our own growth by refusing to accept the crosses of self-discipline, hard work, obedience, suffering, consequences, limits, and resistance of temptation. In rejecting the cross we also reject its fruits.

All of this serves to explain Jesus’ severe reaction to Peter’s words. He even goes so far as to call Peter, “Satan,” for it pertains to Satan to pretend to befriend us in protesting our crosses while really just wanting to thwart our blessings. Peter may not know what he is doing, but Satan does—he seeks to become an obstacle to Jesus’ work.

Jesus’ severe reaction is rooted in protecting our blessings.

III. The Prescription that is Awarding – Jesus goes on to teach further on the wisdom of and the need for the cross. The text says, Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life? For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay all according to his conduct.”

The heart of Jesus’ teaching here is the deep paradox that in order to find our life we must lose it. More specifically, in order to gain Heaven, we must die to this world. That dying is a process more so than just an event at the end of our physical life here. Although we cling to life in this world, it is really not life at all. It is a mere spark compared to the fire of love that God offers; it is a single note compared to the great symphony God directs.

Jesus instructs us to be willing to exchange this tiny, dying life for that which is true life. The Lord says that whatever small blessings come from clinging to this life and this world are really no benefit at all.

Of course what the world’s cheap trinkets offer is immediate gratification and evasion of the cross. We may feel relief for a moment, but our growth is stunted and those cheap little trinkets slip through our fingers. We gain the world (cheap little trinket that it is) but lose our souls. It’s a total loss, or to use a modern expression, it’s a FAIL!

Jesus’ final words, however, remind us that the choice is ours. The day will come when He will respond to our choice. Either we accept true life and win or we choose the passing, dying life of this world and lose.

This song speaks of life as a kind of spiraling climb between cross and glory. As the spiritual says, “Every round goes higher, higher, soldiers of the Cross.”

Addendum:

Hedonism – This is the doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the sole or chief good in life. It comes from the Greek word hēdonē, meaning “pleasure” and is akin to the Greek hēdys, meaning “sweet.”

Of course pleasure is to be desired and to some degree sought, but it is not the only good in life. Indeed, some of our greatest goods and accomplishments require sacrifice: years of study and preparation for a career; the blood, sweat, and tears of raising children.

Hedonism seeks to avoid sacrifice and suffering at all costs. It is directly opposed to the theology of the Cross. St. Paul spoke in his day of the enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things (Php 3:18–19). He also taught that the cross was an absurdity to the Gentiles (1 Cor 1:23).

Things have not changed, my friends. The world reacts with great indignation whenever the cross or suffering is even implied. So the world will cry out with bewildered exasperation and ask incredulously of the Church, are you saying that a woman who was raped must carry the child to term and cannot abort? Yes, we are. Are you saying that a “gay” person must live celibately and may never “marry” his or her same-sex lover? Yes, we are. Are you saying that a handicapped child in the womb must be “condemned” to live in the world and cannot be aborted and put out of his (more accurately our) “misery”? Yes, we are. Are you saying that a suffering person cannot be euthanized to avoid the pain? Yes, we are.

The shock expressed in these sorts of questions shows how deeply hedonism has infected the modern mind. The concept of the cross is not only absurd, it is downright “immoral” in the hedonist mentality, which sees pleasure as the only true human good. To the hedonist, a life without enough pleasure is a life not worth living, and anyone who would seek to set limits on the lawful (and sometime unlawful) pleasures of others is mean, hateful, absurd, obtuse, intolerant, and just plain evil.

When pleasure is life’s only goal or good, how dare you, or the Church, or anyone seek to set limits on it let alone suggest that the way of the cross is better or required! You must be banished, silenced, and destroyed.

Many faithful Catholics in the pews are deeply infected with the illusion of hedonism and thus take up the voice of bewilderment, anger, and scoffing whenever the Church points to the cross and insists on self-denial, sacrifice, and doing the right thing even when the cost is great. The head wagging in congregations is often visible if a priest dares to preach that abortion, euthanasia, in vitro fertilization, and contraception are wrong regardless of the cost, or if he speaks about the reality of the cross. The faithful who swim in the waters of a hedonistic culture are often shocked at anything that might limit the pleasure that others want to pursue.

Hedonism makes the central Christian mysteries of the cross and redemptive suffering seem like something from a distant planet or a parallel and strange universe. The opening word from Jesus’ mouth, “Repent,” seems strange to the hedonistic world, which has even reconstructed Jesus Himself to be someone who just wants us to be happy and content. The cry goes up, even among the faithful, doesn’t God want me to be happy? On this basis, all kinds of sinful behavior is supposed to be tolerated because insisting on the opposite is “hard” and because it seems “mean” to speak of the cross or of self-discipline in a hedonistic culture.

Bringing people back to the real Jesus and to the real message of the Gospel, which features the cross as the way to glory, takes a lot of work and a long conversation. We must be prepared to engage in that extended conversation with people.

Four Disciplines for Worthy Disciples – A Homily for the 13th Sunday of the Year

take up your cross

take up your crossIn the Gospel this Sunday, the Lord gives three important principles for a disciple. He also teaches on the concept of being worthy of Him. We tend think of being worthy as acting in a way that meets a certain standard, but the Greek word for “worthy” involves more than merely external behavior, important though that is. To be worthy of the Lord is to ascribe worth and give proper weight to who He is and what He teaches. Let’s take a look.

I.  The priority of a disciple – The text says that Jesus said to His apostles, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.”

The Lord could not be clearer: we are to love Him more than we love anyone or anything else. There is to be no person or thing in our life that has greater importance than the Lord. So fundamental is the priority of our love and obedience to Him that it eclipses even the most fundamental relationships in our family. Our love and honor for our parents is very important; it is mandated by the Fourth Commandment: Honor your Father and your Mother. And yet, even it cannot overrule the most fundamental of all the commandments, the First Commandment: I am the Lord your God, You shall have no other gods before me.

Therefore, even the love and respect owed to parents and the love that parents should have for their children cannot be preferred to the love and obedience we owe to God. If a son or daughter, even while still a minor, were to hear a parent instructing him or her to disregard a clear teaching or commandment of God, the child would have to respond, “Sorry, Mom, Dad, but I love God more. I cannot obey you in this matter.”

The same is true for any other relationship. If a spouse, a sibling, a boss, or a government official were to try to compel us to act contrary to God’s truth and commands, the answer must always be the same: “I’m sorry but I cannot comply; I love God more. Even if I suffer at your hands as a result, I cannot and will not comply.”

The love of Jesus, who is Lord, supersedes every other love, respect, or honor due to others, be they persons, philosophies, nations, or political parties.

Truth be told, many Christians manifest greater allegiance to political parties, careers, and the opinions of men in general than to the Lord and His Church. Many prefer worldly thinking to what the Lord teaches. Many cave in and compromise to what others demand of them in order to ingratiate themselves to others, to gain access, or simply to preserve a false peace. Silencing the Gospel is never a recipe for true or lasting peace.

II.  The Profundity of a Disciple Jesus speaks strongly and says that such people as this are not “worthy” of me. As noted above, we tend to measure worthiness externally, by whether we live up to expectations of us. While this is proper, it overshadows the more internal dimensions that are the deeper part of being worthy.

The Greek word translated here as “worthy” is axios, and which is related to weights and scales. Most literally the word means “drawing down the scale,” and thus implies weighing as much or more than something else.

Internally, the concept of being worthy of the Lord here is that we assign a greater weightiness in our life to Him than to the passing treasures and trinkets of the world. We are to ascribe greater “worth” or “worthiness” to Him than to anything or anyone else. We take the Lord seriously. His teaching is to weigh on us and to carry a weight in our life. This internal disposition of being worthy of God produces the external behaviors that are worthy of Him.

The Lord paints a kind of picture for us to show that if we love anyone or anything more than we love him, the scales are tipped wrongly; we are not ascribing enough weight or worth to Jesus and are thus living in an unworthy way.

As we “size things up” in life and weigh the true importance of things, remember this: No person, no political party, no boss, no person at all who seeks our money, time, loyalty, or acquiescence ever died for us. None of them can ever save us, for none of them is God. If we esteem anyone or anything more than we do Him, then we are weighting His Blood and His saving love too lightly.

III. The passion of a disciple – The text says, … and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Every disciple must be willing to take up his cross; if he does so, there is ample reward. The Lord originally offered us paradise, but Adam and Eve wanted a better deal. Welcome to that better deal: Paradise Lost. In Paradise Lost, suffering is a reality. But suffering, by God’s gracious mercy, is also redemptive. The Lord teaches us that we must join our cross to His. Taking up the cross is a way of “losing” our life in the sense that it often diminishes our enjoyment of this earthly existence. But in dying to self and to this world, we find our true life: God and the things He offers!

It is interesting to note that we are often willing to take up crosses for worldly gain. We work hard for a paycheck or to earn a college degree. Why not then for the Lord? An old song says, “No cross, no crown.” The Lord asks of us no less than what the world demands for its trinkets. The Lord teaches that rewards far greater than worldly trinkets come with the cross He instructs us to take up. The Lord’s insistence on the need for the cross is not unreasonable, yet many of us bristle. Although we will gladly spend several years and a lot of money in order to obtain a college diploma, going to Church on Sundays or giving up some of our favorite sins is viewed as unreasonable, or just too much trouble.

In effect, the Lord demands that we take him seriously, that we give weight to His words and to His promise. If we dismiss His words lightly then we are not worthy of Him, if we do not give proper weight to His words then we do not take Him seriously. This is a bad idea because He who mercifully summons us now to His truth will one day be our judge.

Be worthy of the Lord. Give sufficient weight to what He says. Respect and obedience are the proper virtues for a disciple who accords worth (weight) to the Lord’s teaching and acts in such a manner.

IV.  The prize of a disciple – The text says, Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because the little one is a disciple—amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.

The Lord promises reward if we get our priorities and passions right, if we welcome His word and give weight to what He says and who He is!

Even now, we can enjoy the fruits of God’s Word as we listen to His prophets and see our life change. In welcoming the Word in my life, I have seen many positive changes. I am less anxious, more patient, and more loving than before. I have greater wisdom. I have seen sins and sinful attitudes reduced and graces come alive. Word and sacrament have had their effect; accepting the prophecy of the Church has given me a prophet’s reward. How about you?

Further, the Lord says that He will reward every work of mercy by us, which is in effect a small share in the cross. We pray that God will forget our sins, but it is said that God will never forget the good things we have done and will never be outdone in generosity.

The Lord does not demand the cross without pointing to its reward. The cross ushers in the crown. Do you believe this? Do you take the Lord seriously? Do you give weight to and count as worthy the Word that He speaks to you?