June 28; 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time; Year A

13th OT2 19 20The real test of worthiness

Is it justifiable to defend unity at any costs? For many, keeping the peace and maintaining unity should be the main priority of any group, community or family. And if this is so, then we must be prepared to sacrifice our personal preferences, values, and even the truth, to preserve the group’s cohesiveness.

Today, our Lord challenges this belief. Group cohesion and communal unity are important but they cannot be our ultimate goals. As Christians, our ultimate goal is to grow deeper in our relationship with Christ and all other relationships, no matter how good or praiseworthy, must ultimately be subject to, and take its cue from this relationship with Christ.

Our Lord explains that His gospel will inevitably force us to choose and this choice will be the cause of division. The proclamation of the kingdom will cause division not because the message is divisive or hateful but because of the ways people will receive it. Responses will vary from full and open reception, to hostile rejection, and this will lead to discord - even hostility - within families, communities and among friends. So, the “worthiness” of His disciples will be tested. The “worthy” disciple does not love father, mother, son or daughter more than Christ. That does not mean that we Christians should not love our parents or family members. We should. But what our Lord is insisting here is that loyalty to Him even before one’s family, is the hallmark of true discipleship. The relationship offered to us in Christ is something which goes further and deeper than even the very closest human relationship.

The gospel of Jesus is not only about an ethical way of life founded on love and mercy, but it is above all about the person of Jesus Himself. We are “Christians” not only because of our words and deeds, but because our entire lives have been reshaped and transformed into “another Christ.” As St Paul in today’s second reading tells us, “when we were baptised in Christ Jesus we were baptised in His death; in other words, when we were baptised we went into the tomb with Him and joined Him in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life.” Because we are “joined” to Him in baptism, our Lord claims a special place in our lives, more important than our dearest ones and biological kin. Being a disciple is not a marginal aspect of my life, it is central.

If our relationship to Christ is what defines us, then our fate too is ultimately intertwined with His. That is why the next test of our “worthiness” is to be found in our willingness to take up the cross. “Anyone who does not take his cross and follow in my footsteps is not worthy of me. Anyone who finds his life will lose it; anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.”

The idea of taking up a cross in today’s context has been sanitised and trivialised. It is often used as a metaphor to describe bearing with life’s daily burdens and inconveniences, like a long wait in traffic, being subjected to the blistering heat, putting up with a difficult boss or spouse, enduring aches and pains. This is so far from the reality of the cross which our Lord had to endure. No, when Jesus says that the true disciple must “take up his cross,” He is not merely calling for acceptance of life’s little inconveniences and hardships. He is calling His disciples to give up everything, even their lives if necessary, to follow Him.

The cross is a radical call to die to oneself. Taking up one’s cross or denying oneself is not something optional to Christianity. In fact, it is the defining action of Christianity. Denying self is not to be confused with denying something to oneself, whether material things, food, pleasure, or whatever. Wicked people often deny themselves many things in order to achieve their selfish goals or conquer their enemies. What Jesus meant by self-denial is far more radical than denying something to oneself. He meant that one must say no to oneself. All man’s sin and self-destruction centers in self-love, self-trust, and self-assertion. The cross means the opposite, it means “no” to self and “yes” to God.

But self-denial is not without value. Our Lord promises His faithful disciples, “If anyone gives so much as a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple, then I tell you solemnly, he will most certainly not lose his reward.” In this following of Christ, this union with God, we will ultimately share in the reward which Christ has won for us. It is true that now we must endure the trial of discipleship by having a share in His cross but later we will have a share in His glory, as St Paul assures us, “What we suffer in this life can never be compared to the glory, as yet unrevealed, which is waiting for us.” (Rom 8:18)