Two Teachings on Discipleship from Jesus

In the Gospel for today (Monday of the 13thWeek of the Year) Jesus gives two teachings on discipleship. They are not easy, and they challenge us—especially those of us who live in the affluent West.

Poverty– The text says, As they were proceeding on their journey someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”

Here is a critical discipline of discipleship: following Jesus even if worldly gain not only eludes us but is outright taken from us.Do you love the consolations of God or the God of all consolation? Do you seek the gifts of God, or the Giver of every good and perfect gift? What if following Jesus gives you no earthly gain? What if being a disciple brings you ridicule, loss, prison, or even death? Would you still follow Him? Would you still be a disciple?

In this verse, the potential disciple of Jesus seems to have had power, prestige, or worldly gain in mind. Perhaps he saw Jesus as a political messiah and wanted to get on the “inside track.” Jesus warns him that this is not what discipleship is about. The Son of Man’s kingdom is not of this world.

We need to heed Jesus’ warning. Riches are actually a great danger. Not only do they not help us in what we really need, they can actually hinder us! Poverty is the not the worst thing. There’s a risk in riches, a peril in prosperity, and a worry in wealth.

The Lord Jesus points to poverty and powerlessness (in worldly matters) when it comes to being disciples. This is not merely a remote possibility or an abstraction. If we live as true disciples, we are going to find that piles of wealth are seldom our lot. Why? Well, our lack of wealth comes from the fact that if we are true disciples, we won’t make easy compromises with sin or evil. We won’t take just any job. We won’t be ruthless in the workplace or deal with people unscrupulously. We won’t lie on our resumes, cheat on our taxes, or take easy and sinful shortcuts. We will observe the Sabbath, be generous to the poor, pay a just wage, provide necessary benefits to workers, and observe the tithe. The world hands out (temporary) rewards if we do these sorts of things, but true disciples refuse such compromises with evil. In so doing, they reject the temporary rewards of this earth and may thus have a less comfortable place to lay their head. They may not get every promotion and they may not become powerful.

Thus “poverty” is a discipline of discipleship.What is “poverty”? It is freedom from the snares of power, popularity, and possessions.

Jesus had nowhere to rest his head. Now that is poor. However, it also means being free of the many obligations and compromises that come with wealth. If you’re poor no one can steal from you or threaten take away your possessions. You’re free; you have nothing to lose.

Most of us have too much to lose and so we are not free; our discipleship is hindered. Yes, poverty is an important discipline of discipleship.

Promptness (readiness)The text says, And to another he said, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

The Lord seems harsh here. However, note that the Greek text can be understood in the following way: “My Father is getting older. I want to wait until he dies and then I will really be able to devote myself to being a disciple!”

Jesus’ point is that if the man didn’t have this excuse, he’d have some other one. He does not have a prompt or willing spirit. We can always find some reason that we can’t follow wholeheartedly today because. There are always a few things resolved first.

It’s the familiar refrain: I’ll do tomorrow!

There is peril in procrastination. Too many people always look to tomorrow. But remember that tomorrow is not promised. In Scripture there is one word that jumps out repeatedly; it’s the word now. There are many references to the importance of now or today rather than tomorrow:

  • Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD (Isaiah 1:18).
  • behold, now is the day of salvation (2 Cor 6:2).
  • Today if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your heart (Ps 95:7).
  • Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for you know not what a day may bring forth (Prov 27:1).

That’s right, tomorrow is not promised! You’d better choose the Lord today because tomorrow might very well be too late. Now is the day of salvation.

There is an old preacher’s story about delay: There were three demons who told Satan about their plan to destroy a certain man.The first demon said, “I’m going to tell him that there is no Hell.” But Satan said, “People know that there’s a Hell and most have already visited here.” The second demon said, “I’m going to tell him that there is no God.” But Satan said, “Despite atheism being fashionable of late, most people know, deep down, that there is a God, for He has written His name in their hearts.” The third demon said, “I’m not going to tell them that there’s no Hell or that there’s no God; I’m going to tell them that there’s no hurry.” And Satan said, “You’re the man! That’s the plan!”

Yes, promptness is a discipline of discipleship. It is a great gift to be sought from God. It is the gift to run joyfully and without delay to what God promises.

Here are two disciplines of discipleship. They are not easy, but the Lord only commands what truly blesses. There is freedom in poverty and joy in quickly following the Lord!

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Fundamentals for Fruitful Discipleship – A Homily for the 5th Sunday of Easter

In this Easter Season, we continue to reflect on how the Risen Lord Jesus minsters to us and supplies our needs. Last week we considered Him as our shepherd. This week we learn how He is the vine and we the branches, wholly dependent on Him for everything. As we consider how He cares for us as His disciples, we need to rescue the word “care” from its rather sentimental modern sense. True care does not merely include pleasant things such as providing food and shelter. Sometimes care involves difficult things, but ones that are necessary to discipline and purify us so that we grow and bear more fruit. Thus, the Lord speaks of “pruning” in this passage. While caring, pruning is not often pleasant, but it is proper care. Let’s look at how the Lord cares for us so that we can be true disciples.

The Lord presents us with four basic principles that assist us in being better, more fruitful disciples.

I. The Purpose of Disciples – The text says, I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit … Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned.

The purpose of a vine is to bear fruit. What are the fruits that the Father seeks? Surely justice, righteousness, and holiness are chief among them. The Letter to the Galatians speaks of them in this way: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:23). Surely, we can add virtues and fruits such as generosity, chastity, mercy, forgiveness, and zeal for God and His kingdom. These are among the fruits God seeks, and which are the purpose of the vine, His son Jesus, whom He sent to nourish us so that these fruits would come to pass.

Yet there are some branches that, though they take nourishment from the vine, do not bear fruit. Not only do they fail to bear fruit, they often harm the vine by drawing strength away from the fruit-bearing branches.

I know little of grapes, but for many years now I have grown tomatoes. As the tomato plant grows, small shoots emerge from the base of the vine branches. These are usually called “suckers,” because they draw strength away from the main branch where the tomatoes are growing. These suckers should be plucked for the health and vigor of the plant and the best development of the fruit.

God will often do the same. In our modern age, with its stress on individualism, hearing that God cuts off unfruitful branches strikes us as unmerciful and harsh. However, God has in mind not just the individual, but the strength and fruitfulness of the whole vine. Failing to bear fruit does not just affect the individual; it affects the whole vine. Therefore, God, as a loving vine-dresser, cuts away the harmful branches. Your life is not just about you. My life is not just about me. We exist in myriad, complex relationships with one another, and God must care for all of them. Because the purpose of the vine is to bear fruit, God tends the vine with that in mind.

The text goes on to say that severed branches wither and that “people” will gather them and throw them into the fire. If I don’t know who I am and whose I am, if I am no longer rooted in Christ, anyone can name me and carry me off. Yes, without the stability of abiding on the vine, I can get “carried away” by worldly things. In this way, I wither and die spiritually; the slightest breeze can blow me about. Like any dried and withered branch, I am good for nothing but to be thrown into the fire. Unless Christ carries me and sustains me, I am carried away by others, who cast me into the fire.

II. The Pruning of Disciples – The text says, and every [branch] that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.

Most of us who have cared for roses know how important pruning is. Without this careful and necessary cutting, the rose bush grows long and gnarly. It expends its strength more on the branches than on the flowers. Little by little the flowers become smaller and less beautiful; the leaves lose their beauty, shape, and color, becoming smaller and lighter green. Eventually the rose bush looks little better than a weed.

I imagine that if a rose bush could talk, it would protest and cry out in pain every November as I descend upon it and cut back its growth to a mere one foot above the ground. In May, though, the gorgeous roses in the front yard are a masterpiece and all the pain of November is forgotten.

Pain and pruning are part of the Christian journey; God knows what He is doing. We often do not, and like the roses in November that cry out in pain and protest, we look for answers. Yet no more than I can explain my purpose to the roses (they are only rose bushes, after all), can God explain to us what He is about (we are mere mortals with minds too small to comprehend the whole picture).

Just the same, November pruning gives way to May glory; God the vine-dresser knows what He is doing.

Note, too, that the Lord says that His Word “prunes” us. If we let the Word enter us uncompromised and unabridged, we read, For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Heb 4:12). Yes, God’s Word can humble our pride, cut to the quick our distorted and wrongful thinking, and hold us accountable. It can cut away error and mend the decayed wounds of sin.

We must allow the Word of God to be what it is. Too many of us seek a filtered and watered-down version of God’s Word. No! Let the undiluted Word go to work, of which Scripture itself says, Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces? (Jer 23:29)

A pruned vine bears abundant fruit. None of us like pruning, but nothing is more necessary.

III. Persistence of Disciples – The text says, Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.

In this short Gospel, the word “remain” occurs seven times. Do you get the point? Remain! The Greek word μείνατε (meinate) is the plural imperative of the verb meno, meaning, “to abide.” To abide means to remain habitually or to stay somewhere. It speaks of stability and persistence.

It is clear that a branch must always stay attached to the vine or else it is doomed. Absolutely nothing is possible to a branch (except to wither and die) unless it is attached to the vine 24 x 7 x 365. Nothing could be clearer in this analogy than this truth.

Yet it seems very unclear to the average disciple of Jesus, who so easily walks away, finding abiding both tedious and difficult. Then we wonder why our spiritual life is tepid and its fruits lackluster! We can’t have even a mediocre spiritual life apart from Christ; the text says we can’t do anything at all but be scattered.

How do we abide with and in the Lord? Scripture distinguishes four ways. We abide and experience union with the Lord through

HIS WORDIf you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you (Jn 15:7). Anyone who loves me will be true to my word and my Father will love him and we will come to him (Jn 14:22).

HOLY COMMUNION –  He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him (Jn 6:56).

PRAYER (especially communal prayer) –  For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them (Matt 18:20).

KEEPING HIS COMMANDMENTSThose who keep his commandments abide in him and He in them (1 John 3:22).

Yes, abiding is accomplished through prayer, Scripture, sacraments, fellowship, and walking uprightly. This Gospel could not be more clear: abide, abide, abide, abide, abide, abide, abide. Seven times the word is used.

Do you get it? Abide. Abide persistently.

IV. The Produce of Disciples – The text says, If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

Attached to and abiding in the vine, we will produce abundant fruit. Note that this is linked to a kind of fruitfulness in prayer that comes from the Father’s good pleasure.

Why is He pleased to answer our prayers if we abide? Because He can trust us with His blessings. In effect, He can say, “Here is someone who is close to my Son, who habitually remains with Him and abides with Him. Yes, here is someone I can trust with blessings. Here is a wise steward who is in union with my Son.” Scripture speaks often of the correlation between wise stewardship and blessings:

  • (Luke 16:10-11) Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So, if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?
  • (Matt 25:21) His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”
  • (Luke 12:48) From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

Do you want more? Then use well what you already have. Be someone whom the Father can trust because you stay close and abide with His Son. Be like those who can say, with mother Ruth, Wherever you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay (Ruth 1:16). Be like the man who said to his wife, “If you ever leave me, I’m going with you.”

Abide, abide, abide.

Working for the Kingdom – A Homily for the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time

The readings of “Ordinary Time” (Tempus per annum in Latin) focus on the call to discipleship and the living of the Christian Faith. The readings for today’s Mass are no exception, as they present us with a number of disciplines for disciples. These disciplines free us to serve Christ and His Kingdom joyfully, energetically, and wholeheartedly. We can group these disciplines into three broad areas; discipleship is undefiant, unfettered, and untiring. Let’s consider each area of discipline as reflected in the readings.

I.  Undefiant – The first reading today covers the ministry of the reluctant prophet, Jonah. In today’s reading we hear only the end of the story, but as most of us know, Jonah was not merely reluctant in accepting his mission as a prophet, he was downright defiant. Recall his story:

Refusal The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it …” But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish (1:1-3). Jonah defiantly runs from God; he refuses the mission.

Running – Nineveh was 550 miles east of Israel. Tarshish was 2500 miles west of Israel. Do you get the picture? Jonah was doing some serious running! Rather than go 550 miles to do God’s will, he was ready to travel 2500 miles to get away from God’s will. It’s always a longer trip when you defy God.

Resistance – As Jonah runs away from God, great storms arise at sea. The storms of defiance rage, but Jonah sleeps—and the storms affect not only him but those who sail with him as well. Yes, our moral decisions do affect others around us despite our egocentric notion that what we do is no one else’s business. Thus, for some of us, there can be great storms that come into our lives. Has it ever occurred to you that some of the storms in your life may be related to a situation in which God said, “This way,” but you defied him and said, “No, that way”? Maybe we all need to wake up and say, “What does this storm mean?”

Return – Swallowed by the great fish, Jonah is brought back to the very place (Joppa) where he sailed away from God. In effect, God says, “Let’s try this all over again.” So Jonah makes ready and goes to Nineveh, according to the LORD’s bidding. Yes, Jonah was smart this time.

The point is that disciples (we) must learn to be undefiant. God wants to “save us some mileage.” Obedience to His will is always easier than disobedience.

Consider, too, how undefiant the Ninevites are as they hear and heed Jonah’s message and notice how this saves them from destruction.

It’s always easier to follow God. I did not say that it’s easy, just that it’s easier. Sin may be more pleasurable and easier in the moment, but it brings a world of difficulties and complications in its wake. If you do not think this is so, just read a newspaper and consider how many of our difficulties are directly tied to our sinful attitudes and choices. The vast majority of this world’s suffering is directly attributable to the rebellious sinfulness of humanity.

The first discipline of discipleship is undefiance. With this discipline we remain teachable and open to God’s wisdom and are thereby spared many difficulties.

II.  Unfettered – To be unfettered means to be unchained, unshackled, free to move about. The second reading today presents a vivid and sober portrait of what being unfettered and detached looks like:

I tell you, brothers and sisters, the time is running out. From now on, let those having wives act as not having them, those weeping as not weeping, those rejoicing as not rejoicing, those buying as not owning, those using the world, as not using it fully. For the world in its present form is passing away (1 Cor 7:29ff).

This passage does not mean that we have no recourse at all to these things and people but rather that we live “as” not having them. In other words, we must seek the gift to realize that nothing in this passing world remains. Nothing here, not even marriage, is the sole reason for our existence or the sole source of meaning for us. God and God alone is the source of meaning and the lasting goal of our life. All else will pass.

For most of us, detachment form this world is the battle, the central struggle we face. Our attachment to this world hinders us from freely following Christ. A couple of passages come to mind:

Jesus, said [to the rich young man], “If you would be perfect, go and sell all that you have, (and you will have treasure in heaven) and then come and follow me.” At that saying his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions. And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Mark 10:22 ff).

No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money … So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:24).

The world has a thousand hooks in us. We are chained and fettered; our freedom to follow Christ is severely compromised.

The battle to be free and unfettered is a process. God can give us this freedom but it requires time and obedience from us. Little by little, God breaks the shackles of this world; all its treasures come to seem as of little value to us. Slowly we come to what St. Paul said:

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ (Phil 3:7-8).

III.  Untiring – Consider that among Jesus’ first followers were several fishermen. The text of the Gospel today says, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

Is there some meaning in the fact that fishermen were among His first and most prominent disciples? Perhaps so.

Consider that fishermen have some important qualities that are helpful for discipleship. Fishermen are:

Patient – Fishermen often need to wait for many hours, even days, for a catch. Disciples need patience, as do evangelizers.

Professional – Fishermen need to spend time learning about the types of fish and their behaviors, learning to observe the water and navigate, learning the right time of day and the right season to fish. They need to know the right bait and the proper use of the net. All of these traits are good for disciples and are especially helpful in evangelization, which is “job one” for the disciple. Through growing in practical knowledge we come to know our faith and learn effective ways to be fishers of men.

Purposeful – When fishermen are out fishing they are entirely focused on their endeavor. That’s all they do; everything is centered on the main task. They are single-minded. Disciples surely need more of this attitude. The Book of James says, The double-minded man is unstable in all his ways (James 1:8). St. Paul says, But this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Phil 3:13-14). Every disciple needs to be more single-minded.

Pursuing – Note that they simply go to the fish. Too many Catholic parishes merely open the doors and hope that people will come to them—that is not evangelization. The key word for disciples and evangelizers is this: go.

Partnered – Fishermen work in teams. Jesus sends the disciples out, two by two.

Persistent – If fishermen don’t make a catch one day, they’re back out the next. Disciples surely need to persist, both in their own journey and in making disciples of others.

In today’s readings there are a number of disciplines of discipleship. The green vestments of Ordinary Time remind us of growth, both our own and that of the Church. Ultimately, a free heart is a joyful heart. It is a heart that is not easily tired because it is not divided by serving two masters. It is a heart that ungrudgingly serves the Kingdom.

Here is a song that speaks of patient, purposeful, and persistent action on behalf of God’s Kingdom. It is a song that can only come from a heart that is undefiant, unfettered, and untiring; from a heart that says, “I keep so busy workin’ for the Kingdom, I ain’t got time to die!”

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?

 

Where are the Other Nine? – A Question YOU must Answer

In the Gospel for yesterday (Sunday’s)  Mass the Lord Jesus healed ten lepers. Only one of them returned to thank him. And Jesus asked the following question:

Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? (Luke 17:17)

We have discussed before (HERE) that, when Jesus asks a question, you’re supposed to answer it yourself. Do not wait for some one else to answer it. Don’t just wait and see how someone in the Biblical story answered it. YOU answer it, for yourself.

So Jesus just asked us a question: Ten were cleansed were they not? Where are the other nine?  OK, so where are they? “Who?”, you might ask. Well, think in terms of evangelization. Do you not know at least nine other people who need to return to God, to the Church and to the sacraments? The Lord is asking you (not the person next to you), “Where are the other nine?”

Now the question has a rhetorical quality to it. The Lord is not merely curious as to the physcial whereabouts of unchurched loved ones and friends. It would seem He also wants to know why they are not “here,” close to him in the sacraments. We saw in yesterday’s blog post (HERE) that the gospel is really in the form of a Mass and the leper kneeling before him to give thanks has a Eucharistic meaning. So, in this sense, the Lord wants to know why the missing “nine” are not kneeling before God in the great thanksgiving we call the Eucharist (a Greek word which means to give thanks) to render thanks and receive further blessings.

So where are the other nine?

  1. Where is your spouse who fell away from the faith years ago?
  2. Where is your son or daughter who stopped going to church in college?
  3. Where is your brother?
  4. Where is your co-worker who “used to be Catholic”?
  5. And to the priest and parish leaders:
  6. Where is that parishioner who used to be so dedicated and hasn’t been seen in months?
  7. Where is the choir member who once sang all those solos?
  8. Where is the parish secretary who got ill and had to retire but you haven’t contacted since?
  9. Ten were made whole, were they not? Where are the other nine?

Why me? It is a true fact that we cannot be personally and primarily responsible for every one’s whereabouts and falling away from Mass. But neither can we be wholly detached from this matter. One day God asked Cain, “Where is your brother?” And Cain replied with a question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Now, of course, Cain had other issues going on. (!) But aside from those, his question “Am I my brother’s keeper?” is demonstrably shallow. The fact is, we are our brother’s “keeper”  in the sense that their whereabouts and well-being should be important to us.  It should grieve us if they have drifted from God and the sacraments. Perhaps they did this because they were hurt, or are sick. Or perhaps they have grown lukewarm or have drifted into serious sin. Yes, “Where is your brother?”

And so, the question, “Where are the other nine?” is a question we must answer. And if that means that we must go and seek the other nine and find the answer, then we ought to get about doing it. We don’t need to start with lectures. Simple heart-felt questions can often be the best beginning:

  1. How have you been?
  2. I haven’t seen you in Church recently. Are you OK?
  3. Did someone hurt you?
  4. Has your health been poor?
  5. What keeps you from coming?
  6. Can I help?
  7. How do you experience God in your life?
  8. Do you know we miss you?
  9. Do you know we need you?
  10. Do you know the Lord wants to feed you?
  11. Come with me back to Mass this Sunday.

The Archbishop in his recent letter on Evangelization (Disciples of the Lord) says,

This is our mandate: to witness to others  so that they reawaken to and rediscover the vital and inexhaustible friendship of  Jesus Christ. Sisters and brothers, our eagerness and zeal for the task can be both the invitation and support for those who take their first steps back to the community of faith, as the ever deepening life  within the seed is drawn to the light. At the  individual level this action may be through  a deepening of our own personal faith as well as outreach to others: a direct conversation about Catholicism, extending an invitation to Mass, or providing simple witnesses such as blessing ourselves before a meal in a restaurant, offering to pray for someone in need, keeping a devotional item on our desk at work or wearing a crucifix for others to see. (Disciples of the Lord, P. 13)

Our archdiocesan efforts to share the good news and invite others into the joy of new life in Christ are not simply a new program — one among many. I hope all of us will see the New Evangelization as a lens through which we see everything that we are doing but now in the light of our understanding of how important it is for each of us to tell the story, share the excitement and be that leaven where the faith has gone flat and that salt where the faith has lost its zest….We cannot simply invite from a distance. Instead, we search actively and carefully for our sisters and brothers who are away from the practice of their faith. (P. 15)

The Lord was surely glad to see that Leper come back and he is surely glad to see us at Mass on Sunday. Praise God! But he does have a heartfelt question for you and me, and for the Church. It is an evangelical question, and and a question that touches on the most fundamental mission we have. It is a question that we cannot utlimately ignore if we want to call ourselves the Lord’s disciples. It is a question you must answer: “Where are the other nine?”  Where?

Four Demands of Discipleship: A Meditation on the Gospel of the 23rd Week of the Year

In today’s Gospel Jesus defines four Demands of discipleship. We can look at them one by one.

1.  The CONTEXT of the discipleship. The text says that large crowds were following Jesus and so he turned to address them. Just about any time you find a mention of a large crowd fasten your seat belts and prepare for a hard teaching. Jesus didn’t trust the big crowds who were often out for the goodies. They were looking for miracles, multiplied and free bread, physical healings and a fiery sermon. So upon sensing a large crowd the texts says, rather provocatively, that Jesus turned to address them. He then gives a series of “hard sayings” which seem almost designed to thin the ranks and to distinguish true disciples from the “lip service” crowd.

We will see in a moment what he says. But let’s take a moment and examine other incidents where the gospels demonstrate Jesus’ tendency to distrust big crowds:

  • Mat 7:13 Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
  • Matt 22:14 For many are called, but few are chosen.
  • Luke 6:26 Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.

There is also the tendency in the gospels for the mentioning of a large crowd to be followed by a “hard saying:”

  • Matt 13:1-9 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears, let him hear.”
  • Matt 19: 1-6 When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” (cf also Mark 10)
  • Luke 11:29 As the crowds increased, Jesus said, “This is a wicked generation. It asks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.
  • Luke 14:26-27 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
  • Luke 12:54-56 He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?
  • John 6: 2 and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the miraculous signs he had performed on the sick….and He said to them, I am the living bread come down from heaven…..the crowds murmured.

So, the CONTEXT of discipleship is not usually with the crowd. Though many are called, indeed all are called, only few make the cut and become true disciples. There is a kind of remnant theology at work here, to be sure. But it is a common pattern that Jesus thins the ranks and distinguishes the many who are called from the few who are chosen. This is a fact not only in the Scriptures but it also remains true that the Lord has often had to prune his Church. Even now we are seeing a large falling away, a kind of pruning as large numbers depart who are not able to take the “hard sayings” of Jesus and the Scriptures about sexuality, forgiveness, love of one’s enemies, heroic charity and generosity, and so forth. The CONTEXT of discipleship is with the few, rather than the many.

2. The CENTRALITY of the discipleship. Jesus indicates that we can prefer or love no one more than him if we are going to be his disciples. This extends even to our family relationships: If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Now “hate” here does mean that we are to have contempt for others or nourish unrighteous anger toward them. What we are dealing with here is a Jewish idiom. The Hebrew language, for some reason, has very few comparative words such as: more, less, greater, fewer, and so forth. Hence in ancient Hebrew if one were to prefer vanilla ice cream to chocolate one would say, “I love vanilla but hate chocolate.”  But what “hate” means here in context is that I “prefer” vanilla, not that I literally hate chocolate.

So, what Jesus means is that we cannot prefer anyone or anything to Him. He’s first, he’s number one. Jesus says, I must have absolute priority over the closest human relationships in your life. If there’s anyone in your life that can talk you out of obeying God, forget ‘em! Anyone who keeps you away from God has too much power. Anyone who can keep you from your Christian walk has too much power. Anyone who can pull you into unrighteousness has too much power. So if The boss instructs us to do something immoral – sorry boss. If the accountant or lawyers advise saving money by paying unjust wages or cutting necessary benefits – sorry boys. A boyfriend pressures his girl friend to have sex – sorry dear. Peers pressure to use drugs or abuse alcohol, skip school, or steal – sorry buddies. A spouse calls his or her mate away from teaching the children the ways of faith. – sorry honey. A child pressures a parent to that which is unwise or wrong. – sorry child of mine. So, do you get it? No one is to have priority of Jesus Christ and what he teaches., The word “hate” here may not be literal but on second thought, if Jesus really does have priority in our life it may cause some to say, “You’re so devoted to him, I think you hate me!”

3. The CROSS of discipleship. Jesus says if we want to be a disciple we must be willing to carry the cross. Now the cross comes in many forms, but in the end, to be a disciple does not mean we are in any way exempt from the troubles and trials of this world. Jesus indicates that we will be hated by the word (cf  Jn 15:20), persecuted and sorely tempted by this world. But if we hold out, victory will be ours. It is a simple rule: No cross, No crown. There are some who want to preach a prosperity gospel. There are others who demand a gospel stripped of its moral imperatives. Still others demand an updated faith that tickles their ears and affirms their aberrant behavior. But Jesus points to the Cross, not to torture us, but because it is the only way to glory. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world (John 16:33). Now, for a little while you may have to suffer various trials…(1 Peter 1:6)

4. The COST of discipleship. Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, ‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’ Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops? But if not, while he is still far away, he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms. In the same way, anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple. Jesus asks us to count the cost of what he is teaching here. Many of the Protestant preachers like to emphasize that salvation is free,  and it is. But discipleship is costly. Jesus gives the image of someone building a tower or of a king going to battle. But, truth be told, these examples are distant from us. So Jesus brings it home and says to us: anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.

The Greek word  ἀποτάσσω (apotasso) translated here as “renounce” also means, “to say farewell.” And the Lord is reminding us that heaven costs everything. Ultimately we must say farewell to everyone and everything we consider precious here in order to inherit heaven. This of course is not something that waits merely for death.

At one level, we give back everything to God as we go, little by little. We have all given back loved ones. Perhaps too we have given back youthful figures, strength, good health, and so forth. Ultimately we will give it all back.

But at another level the Lord is clear to say here that we must be willing to part with anything that hinders discipleship now, not later. The fact is that many things attach us to this world and make discipleship difficult. Are we willing to de-clutter our life, simplify and get more focused on being disciples? Or will we go on setting down roots here and amassing a worldly kingdom? What’s it going to be, the world or the Kingdom? Count the cost. See what it really means to be a disciple and what it cost, then decide.

What Jesus is looking for are disciples who, having counted the cost and realistically assessed it, are ready, nonetheless, to be his disciples. Tag-alongs, lip service Christians, fair weather folks, need not apply. So today Jesus is looking at a big crowd and teaches in a way that is meant to distinguish true disciples from the “lip service” disciples. We are asked to ponder in which category we most truthfully belong.

This Homily is available in recorded form here: http://frpope.com/audio/23%20Sun%20C.mp3

Five Disciplines of Discipleship

The first observation for this Sunday’s Gospel is that it provides a kind of remedy for the sappy portraits of Jesus that seem to predominate today. Such portraits present Jesus as the quintessential “nice guy” whose main task was to affirm people, befriend the poor and generally be “nice.” It is a true fact that he did affirm, he befriended the poor and did have some nice things to say. But it is also true that Jesus is firm and uncompromising in setting forth conditions for discipleship. In today’s Gospel Jesus is clear in his own resolve and demands the same from those will follow him. There are to be no excuses and no postponements. He wants a decision. He is clear as to what that decision must be and he is not willing  to wait for an answer tomorrow. This is no sappy or syrupy Jesus. He is serious and sets forth sober principles that he expects to be followed.

In today’s Gospel we can find five disciplines of discipleship which are both taught and exemplified by Jesus.

1. Purposefulness – The Gospel opens today with this line:  When the days for Jesus’ being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem. (Luke 9:51)  Jesus was resolute. He was heading to Jerusalem to suffer, die and rise. He had this for his purpose and would not be deterred from this goal. He was determined to undertake the great battle and the great mission entrusted to him. Everything he did was to be oriented to this goal. We too are summoned to be purposeful, to be determined and to have our life centered around the one goal of knowing God in order to love Him, serve Him, be saved by Him and spend eternity with Him. Everything we do must somehow be linked to this one thing. Other Scriptures speak of the necessity of being resolutely purposeful and of having our life centered on the one thing necessary:  This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,  I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Phil 3:13)   No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. (Mat 6:24)   A double minded man is unstable in all his ways (James 1:8)

2. Perseverance – As the text of today’s gospel continues a certain Samaritan town rejects and will not receive Jesus or the missionary group accompanying him. When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they journeyed to another village (Lk 9:54-56) Now the fact is that if we witness to Jesus Christ authentically we are going to experience some hatred and rejection. Jesus is not deterred by this rejection but simply moves on to the next town. He also rebukes James and John for being so thin-skinned and revengeful about it. We cannot allow our little egos to get in the way of witnessing to Christ. Neither can we allow vengeful anger to sidetrack us into hate and away from love. We must persevere in proclaiming the Gospel message in season or out of season, whether we are accepted or rejected. Some will reject us. Instead of stopping out of hurt or discouragement we are counseled to shake the dust from our feet and move on to the next town, or soul (cf  Matt 10:14). By the way, Jesus perhaps had this incidence in mind when he (humorously?) gave James and John the nickname “Sons of Thunder.” (Mk 3:17) So perseverance in spite of hatred and persecution is the second discipline of discipleship taught and demanded by the Lord.

3. PovertyAs they were proceeding on their journey someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” (Lk 9:57-58) Now this man apparently thought Jesus was headed somewhere high, perhaps to a palace. He probably figured on a worldly Messiah who was set to conquer and take charge and he wanted a place close to this new King in the palace. But Jesus rebukes the notion that following him will lead to this. In fact, it will lead to the cross. To follow Jesus will require that we learn to be poor to this world. Wealth, power, popularity and prestige entangle us with this world and keep us from our appointed task of proclaiming Christ crucified and finding our way home to heaven. We need to embrace a kind of poverty where we learn to simplify, pull free from worldly entanglements and travel light. We need not be destitute but neither should we be enamored of this world’s wealth. And frankly following Christ often means directly that we will experience financial impacts. The world know how to reward it’s own. But most often this reward comes at the cost of compromising the gospel. Living as a Christian often means we will live in a way that limits financial and other rewards. We won’t  make easy compromises with sin or evil for profit or access. We won’t just take any job or be ruthless in the workplace. We won’t deal with unscrupulous people. We won’t lie on our resume, cheat on our taxes or take unethical short cuts. We will observe the Sabbath, be generous to the poor, pay a just wage and provide necessary benefits. We will pay the tithe. So pulling free of easy compromises and entanglements with the world and being “poor” to its riches is the third discipline of discipleship.

4. PromptnessAnd to another he said, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But he answered him, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God (Luke 9:59-60). We tend to think that the man’s Father has just died and thus cringe at the Lord’s “cruel” remark. But the text does not in fact say the man’s father has just died. Hence, a more likely understanding of this text which also respects the Lord’s response is that the man is really saying something like: “I want to follow you, but my father is getting up in years and I will surely have to care for him. Perhaps when I am free of family obligations I will follow you.” The fact is that we can have a thousand excuses to avoid making God our priority. We endlessly postpone whole hearted discipleship by saying “Perhaps when I retire I’ll be better about getting to Church and praying…..Perhaps when I get the raise I’ll be more generous to the poor.” And so we delay our conversion. Then finally retirement does come and we have other excuses such as, “Well I’m not as young as I used to be and it’s harder to get out and go to Mass or get more involved.”  And the fact is that it has always been tomorrow that “I’ll do better.” Jesus is unimpressed with all the excuses and the promises about how things will be better “later.” He says, “Now.”  The fourth discipline of discipleship is promptness. We must promptly obey God.

5. PermanenceAnd another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.”  To him Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”  (Lk 9:61-62) This excuse sounds similar but Jesus different response points to another discipline of discipleship, that of permanence. Jesus teaches quite plainly that we are to set our hand to the Gospel plow and stop looking back to the world. The Letter to the Ephesians states well our call: Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds,  and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph 4:22-24).  The second Letter of Peter says Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your call and election permanent (2 Pet 1:10). The Lord has called us from things like: Harmful habits, ruinous relationships, soul-killing sinfulness, and perilous pleasures. We are, by his grace to leave these things behind and not look back. Proverbs, 26:11 says, As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his foolishness. Clearly then we must cling to Christ. Going back and forth from the world to Christ is unacceptable. And old spiritual says, “Some go to Church for to sing and shout, before six months they’s all turned out.” The fifth discipline of discipleship is permanence.

This song says, Jesus says, “Here I stand, won’t you please let me in?” and you said “I will but tomorrow.” Tomorrow? Who promised you tomorrow. Better choose the Lord today, for tomorrow very well might be too late.