Dear Sisters and Brothers,
Today’s Gospel is the continuation and the conclusion of the instructions of Jesus which we started last week. In this passage, Jesus summarizes both the cost of disciple-ship and its rewards. The conditions of discipleship outlined in Matthew’s Gospel may appear harsh. Yet they underline for us a great unbreakable truth—choosing anything with one’s whole heart has consequences or a price to pay. Choosing life with Christ means that every relationship we have, must be understood from a new perspective. For many in Matthew’s community, this choice brought division in their family. In other words in the same household there were followers of Jesus as well as members who were against. In a way in the same family father turned against son; mother against daughter; brother against brother or sister against sister.
In the first part of the gospel Jesus teaches, “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.” Does Jesus mean that we have to hate and reject our parents, or chil-dren? The intent of these words, is not at all to deny the due affection of children towards their parents; or to detract from the respect and esteem the parents deserve from them. It is indeed the duty of children, to love, honor and obey them who have been the means of bringing them into the world, and of bringing them up in it; nor do any of the doctrines of Christ break in upon the ties and obligations. And also it is the right and duty of parents to love their children and bring them up in faith and morals. But the great truth of this passage is that Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer who sacrificed his life for us, should be loved above everybody and everything in this world. He is the one who loves us as we are, sinners or saints, and protects us always even when our parents or dear ones are not with us any longer. So the one who gives the priority to human rela-tionship gives only secondary preference to Jesus and his teachings. Jesus says that such people are not worthy of him. Jesus is not interested in part time disciples; he de-mands a wholehearted following. He looks for our first priority for him.
Following Jesus with full love which is above everybody on earth will not give us a smooth ride. Jesus continues, “And whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Many people interpret “cross” in popular language as some burden they must carry in their lives: a strained relationship, a thankless job, a physical illness with self-pitying pride, they say, “That’s my cross I have to carry.” Such an inter-pretation will only bear partial truth. It is not what Jesus meant when He said, “Take up your cross and follow Me,” although it’s not necessarily wrong to refer to some problems we are having as a “cross” we must bear. In Jesus’ day, a cross was a symbol of suf-fering and death. The Roman regime awarded crucifixion to the Jewish criminals and revolutionaries who carried their cross to the place of execution.
Later Jesus too was crucified. When Jesus said to his disciples to follow him taking up their cross, he also meant some sort of death involving here. When we go to Luke we get a better view of the meaning of ‘following Jesus with the cross.’ In Luke Jesus said to them, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himselfand take up his cross daily and follow me”(Luke 9:23). What Jesus is telling them is that they needed to put to death to their own very self,including their own plans and desires, and then turn their lives over to Him and do His will every day.Therefore, “Take up your cross and follow Me”means being willing to die in order to follow Jesus.This is called “dying to self.”It’s a call to absolute surrender.It is very hard for me to deny my very self which is dear to me; My comforts, desires, wishes and plans are important for me and I don’t want to compromise them with anything. After each time Jesus commanded cross bearing, He said, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” (Luke 9:24-25).Although the call is tough, the reward is matchless. When I try to find life in what I like, I lose it, though I may have some gain in the world point of view.
It is said that when he called Peter, Andrew, John and James at the Sea of Galilee, they left everything behind, the nets and boats; John and James left their father Zebe-dee too, and followed him. When Matthew was called in the middle of his busy business hours, he left the office right away and followed Jesus wholeheartedly. Similar was the case with other Apostles too. He makes it very clear that the one who sets his hands on the plow and turns back is not worthy of him. It seems to be a little harsh and too de-manding. Indeed following Jesus is a challenge, and quite a few have taken up that in the history. These days we see a lot of Christians who are Christians only by title; many are convenient Christians who follow Jesus or give him some time when everything goes well with them; there are Sunday Catholics who just attend the Mass to fulfil the obliga-tion. These are the people whose hearts are away from Jesus and about whom Jesus comments: “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Mt 15:8). We should be honest in our discipleship for which we may have to sacrifice many things and come out of our comfort zones. But the reward is nothing less than eternal life.