Following Christ to Discipleship

07-30-2017HomiliesFr. Chad King

If you were a member of the parish 3 years ago, I encouraged you to read the book Forming Intentional Disciples. One of the points that book made was that many Catholics are sacramentalized but not evangelized. What exactly does that mean?  Well, what I want to do in today’s homily is to evangelize you, which simply means sharing the Good News of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. You could also say that I am sharing the Kerygma (the Good News of God). I do so first to help you and I grow in living the Good News of knowing and following Jesus Christ as our Lord and God. But also because I am convinced that many of our loved ones who have fallen away from God or His Church have done so because they do not know why following God as a disciple is so relevant for our lives. What I am sharing is not new…. Or what I developed myself. Most likely you have heard these points throughout your journey in faith, but perhaps you haven’t heard them connected in a formula that can be used as talking points. The Good News or Kerygma can be remembered in 4 simple points:

  1. God made us to share in His life through relationship with Him.
  2. Sin wounds us and our relationship with God, and leads to separation from God.
  3. God sent His Son, Jesus, to forgive our sins and restore our relationship with God.
  4. We are invited to respond by repenting, being baptized and abiding in His Church. 

So, today in this homily I will explain the Kerygma with an overview of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, which is where our 2nd reading is taken from. Then I will use our 2nd reading and our Gospel to help define what it means to follow Jesus as a disciple. If you are like me, it’s that 4th part, the response that is difficult. As our readings show, it is often times a difficult journey of faith to respond to God fully and to live as a disciple.

Let’s look at discipleship, if I were to ask- who is a disciple? I bet many would say someone who is following Jesus. But to what extent of following Jesus makes us a disciple? While in a general sense a disciple is indeed someone who is following Christ, however, the scriptures reveal there is a stricter understanding of the word. Therefore, using our 2nd reading and Gospel today, I want to clarify to what extent we are called to follow Jesus, and thus what it means to live as a disciple.

To begin the explanation of the first 3 points of the Good News, also known as the Kerygma, let me give a quick overview of the Book of Romans, which our 2nd reading is from. St. Paul, the great evangelizer of the Church, writes to the little community of believers in Rome. Rome is not a community Paul founded, but was probably founded by Peter, so Paul doesn’t know them personally, and most likely many of them have only heard about Paul. And so, in the greeting of the letter, Paul introduces himself as “a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God… to all the beloved of God in Rome, called to be holy”. Notice that the first thing that he reminds them of is that they are called to be holy. Just as you and I are called to be holy.

In chapters 1-3 of Romans- Paul lays out the problem, the problem of sin which separates us from God. Romans 3:23 teaches, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”, and thus we are in need of a Savior. Paul then describes the solution to the problem- namely the person of Jesus Christ. God sent His Son to redeem and save us. Paul uses the word justification many times- which simply means to set right. So God has sent his Son, Jesus, to justify, to order and set right the world from the disorder of sin. This God has done through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and our baptism and response to faith makes the justification and salvation possible. As Paul famously writes, “We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life”. Thus the solution and new life is made possible for us because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul goes on, though, to explain that the problem is not yet solved, we are not saved yet, for we still struggle in sin. As Paul confesses in chapter 7, “I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want, but I know that God will deliver me”. Therefore, the key to live in the newness of life is to repent of our sins, and to respond by living in faith and trusting in God’s love and providence. But what does it mean to live by faith and to really trust in God? To answer that question let us look more closely at what St. Paul says in our 2nd readings, and what Jesus teaches in our Gospel today. The 4th point of the Kerygma, the response God is calling us really is going to cost us. 

The first verse in today’s 2nd reading, Romans 8:28, Paul declares, “All things work for good for those who love God, who are called to his purpose”. Yes, this world is full of so much chaos and evil, and our lives are messy and dysfunctional in so many ways, but God has come to order and set right our lives and the world around us. “All things work for good for those who love God, for those who are called to His purpose”. Therefore, all who are seeking to put God first and to really love Him above all things- then all things will work for good. But our lives must be about His purposes, about loving Him. So often we kind of want to use God, we want God to bless this aspect, and that aspect, of our lives. But we still see it as our lives- in the end we are still about our purposes in life, not His. As St. Paul examples for us in another letter- “I myself no longer live, but it is Christ who lives in me”. Our 2nd reading says that our lives are to be conformed to the image of His Son. For those of us who are really seeking Him first then He will bring about the good and right the wrong in our lives. It might take time, it might take hard work and sacrifices to conform us to His Son, but if our lives are about His purposes- then He will order them rightly.

St. Paul is getting this understanding of what it means to follow Jesus as our Lord and God, from Jesus Himself. In our Gospel today, Jesus teaches to what extent we are called to follow Him in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. In essence, this is what it means to truly live as a disciple- in the stricter sense of the word. Jesus says, “The kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field”. Or again, “the kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it”. Let’s think about these parables for a second, they really sound kind of crazy and foolish. Someone finds a treasure in a field, or finds the most perfect pearl he’s been searching for, but instead of taking it right then, he buries it again, then goes to sell all he has in order to keep the treasure. Sounds foolish, doesn’t it? Imagine you were walking across the street late at night, no one was around, all the stores were closed, and suddenly a gust of wind blew a $100 dollar bill right in front of you. There is no way to know where it came from or who it belongs to. What would you do? I think I, and probably you as well, would say ‘thank you God’, and pick it up and put it in my wallet. So then we would have $100 more dollars then we had before, and we would call it my money. I don’t think you or I would hide it, then give away all the rest of our money just to get that $100. But that is what we so often want God to do, we want God to give us more blessings, more of this and that, but we rarely want to give up anything to attain the blessings.

The point of the parables, as well as what it means to follow Jesus as a disciple, is that we cannot steal the Kingdom, we cannot just take the blessings, but we have to give of ourselves completely in order to attain Heaven. We are called to see our lives and all that we have, not as ours, what we own or have, but see it properly as belonging to God- to be used for His purposes.

So let’s go back to the 4 points of evangelization that I spoke about earlier,

  1. God made us to share in His life through relationship with Him.
  2. Sin wounds us, and leads to separation from God.
  3. God sent His Son, Jesus, to restore our relationship with God.
  4. We are invited to respond by abiding in His Love and His Church. 

Doesn’t the readings today sum up the evangelization points well, what the early church and Christ himself taught is what we need to do too. We are to live as if nothing else matters, nothing else is more important than our whole-hearted pursuit of the most precious pearl of great price. We are to grow to believe that the greatest treasure we could ever have is knowing the person of Jesus Christ and His love for us- nothing is more important than that. Do you and I really believe that…do our lives reflect that truth? I encourage you to think about what are the treasures, the pearls, in your life, in the life of your loved ones? What are you pursuing in life- is it Jesus Christ? We have found our pearl of great price in the person of Jesus Christ, what are we willing to give up for it?

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