Raise your hand if you consider yourself a Disciple- as one who follows Jesus? OK, now let us see if we will still say that after we reflect on our Gospel today- in which Jesus tells the 12 disciples what the cost is, what the conditions are to be His follower. As it was demanding for these first disciples, so it is for us.
Jesus begins by telling the 12 apostles several challenging statements to live by if they are to be “worthy of Him”- to be worthy of Jesus means to be one with Jesus in Heaven. For certainly, everyone who is or wants to be worthy of Heaven will be purified to meet these conditions, so now let us look at what Jesus says are the conditions to truly follow Him as his disciple.
First Jesus says, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me”. Wow, such strong words. These 12 disciples must have been shocked and possibly confused at this statement, for family was of the utmost importance. In fact, to love family is a commandment God gives- ‘to honor your father and mother’. So, if to love and honor family is so important to God, then what Jesus is saying to these disciples, and to each of us is shocking. To love and honor family is indeed the 4th commandment, but comes after the first 3 which command to love God. In fact, every day, twice a day, the Jews prayed the Shema, from Deuteronomy 6- You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength and all your mind. By praying it everyday, the disciples knew they were to love God first of all, and above all things. Therefore, what Jesus is saying, although indirectly, is that He is God. For only God can demand to be loved more than family. The same truth is for us too, if we claim that Jesus is the Son of God, then Jesus must be Lord of our lives, and we too are to love God first and above all things. This is difficult to live out, for many people, love of God is just one of the many other things they say they love, but their love for God doesn’t impact how they love other people. They aren’t yet fully living out the 1st commandment. You see, if we love God above all people and things, if we love God with all of our heart, soul, and strength, then we don’t love others less. On the contrary, when we do love God first of all, then we are able to love not with our own strength but His- we love others better and more fully- because that is how God loves. And that is how we love like God and become worthy of Him.
OK, let’s look at the second shocking statement. “Whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me”. So many parents naturally sacrifice themselves in countless ways for their children, they love their children more than themselves. You demonstrate this love day after day as you meet your children’s needs and wants. But parents, I ask you to reflect on if you love your children more than God. If your children were asked, what is your parent’s most important concern for you? What would they say…if they would answer- to get good grades, to be kind and respectful to others, to live good lives, to be successful in life- then you probably aren’t loving God more than them. Children should say that the most important thing to their parents is that they know and love God, and seek to do His will for their lives. All the other qualities then flow from that. Sadly though, I think some parents have lowered the standard for their children, many parents are just happy if their kids go to Mass on Sunday. But seeking God’s will and living for Him is more than just going to Mass on Sundays. Yes, that is the first step, but it shouldn’t be the end. Children must know that loving God and doing His will in their lives is their parents’ first priority. Paragraph 2232 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church uses this Scripture verse and the call of Jesus to love Him more than son or daughter, in speaking about their child’s vocation. “Parents should respect this call and encourage their children to follow it. They (the parents) must be convinced that the first vocation of the Christian is to follow Jesus. It goes on to say, Parents should welcome and respect with joy and thanksgiving the Lord’s call to priestly ministry or to consecrate their lives for the sake of the Kingdom. Last week, Nathaniel Glenn, our Seminarian, spoke at all the Masses. His parents, as were mine, were at the 10:30 Mass. I reflected how grateful I am that they- his parents and mine- taught us to love God first and to seek and do His will for our lives. This is a teaching that we all need to live out and teach our families.
The next challenging verse Jesus gives us, “Whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me”. We today hear the call to pick up our cross to mean to accept our sufferings or to bear life's burdens, because for us the Cross is a metaphor for suffering. A true disciple does more than just accept life's difficulties and hardships. For these first disciples the Cross was the Roman way of execution, the most painful, dehumanizing and disgraceful way to die. Therefore, to pick up one’s cross, to the first disciples, meant to carry the cross beam to their execution. And so, Jesus is saying if you are not willing to be executed for my sake, then you are not worthy to be my disciple. Certainly, if we are disciples, then we are called to see our suffering in this life as a means of following Jesus- because as Jesus shows us, suffering and death is the very means to salvation. But more than offering up our hardships, to be a disciple is to be willing to give up everything, even our own lives if necessary, to follow Him. For Jesus goes on to say, “whoever find his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it”. If someone is seeking the pleasures of this natural life more than Him, if their natural life is the primary focus, then they will lose it, and lose any pleasure for all of eternity. Jesus is saying those who seek happiness in life by pursuing their own interests will never be fulfilled. Only by giving one’s life to God and others, only by living for the good and service of God and others, will we find the happiness and fulfillment we are seeking. As our 2nd reading says, “If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him”. So if we are seeking eternal life in Heaven united with God forever over this natural life, then and only then will we find the life and happiness we are seeking.
Finally, the last condition of a disciple that we are challenged to live out is this: Jesus tells the 12, “whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me”. So the apostles were given the authority to represent God. Jesus is saying the Apostle’s authority is from him, just as His is from the Father. Just as Jesus didn’t, the apostles do not teach on their own, but they are each sent by God, with His authority. Therefore, the teachings of the Apostles are the very teachings of God. Just as Jesus and the Father are one, so Jesus and the Church are one. You have heard of “Cafeteria Catholics”- those who pick and choose the teachings of the Church they want to follow and reject the ones that are more challenging or they don’t understand or agree with- well Jesus is saying that really being a ‘Cafeteria Catholic’ is impossible. To accept the teachings of the apostles is to accept Jesus, and thus to reject the apostles is to reject Jesus. One cannot be a disciple, one cannot say they follow Jesus, if they do not follow the teachings of His Church. That means that if there is a teaching we don’t understand or agree with, we should still obey it and seek to understand it. We should seek to understand and see it from God’s perspective. If we are humble enough to believe and follow the teachings of the Church as the very teachings of God, then we will come to find the true happiness and fulfillment God made for us and which He gave the authority of the Church to safeguard and teach for our well-being.
So my brother and sisters, take some time this week and reflect on your responses to God’s call to discipleship. Are you loving God above all things, even more than your family? Are you are living your life for your own pursuits and pleasures or are you living for the service of God and others? And reflect if there are any teachings of the Church you are not following or need to understand why they are for our good to embrace them fully. Then let us ask God for the grace to take up the challenge and become the disciple He is calling us to be.BACK TO LIST