What is the cost of discipleship? Since the beginning of their journeys together, Jesus has been teaching his disciples of the difficulties they face by following him. They will need courage, and strength of conviction as they continue to follow him and preach the Gospel. Our readings for this 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time reminds us that following Jesus is not only difficult, but can come at the cost of our very lives.
The Word for the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Psalm: 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
We open with a reading from the prophet Jeremiah. In a passage that is typical of what I call “the prophet’s lament,” we hear Jeremiah complaining to God about how he has been duped. His life as a prophet has brought him nothing but derision and reproach, yet he cannot help himself… he still must preach God’s message. The pain of holding back is still greater than the pain he must endure by those who don’t care for his message. While we feel for Jeremiah, his complaint is nothing new. All the prophets that came before him, and all those after him all face similar difficulties. Speaking truth to power is both challenging and dangerous, yet God’s voice compels them to carry on. Jeremiah, who’s ministry saw the rise of the Babylonian Empire and the fall of Jerusalem was perhaps the most tumultuous of times for the people of Israel, yet against great opposition Jeremiah continued to prophecy on behalf of the Lord.
Our Gospel from Matthew, which picks up right where we left off last week, also reminds us that the cost of discipleship can be great. Jesus is telling them that they must go to Jerusalem where he will suffer greatly and be killed for what he has to say. Peter, who just moments before was praised by Jesus for recognizing him as the Christ, now calls him “Satin” for suggesting that nothing bad would happen. Jesus reminds them all that if they wish to follow, they must deny themselves and “take up your cross,” an admonition he’s given them before, but now made all the more real by learning what fate awaits him in Jerusalem. Though their path will be arduous, however, Jesus also reminds them that he will “repay all according to his conduct.” That is to say, the Kingdom of Heaven awaits.
This is the same message we here in our continued study of Paul’s letter to the Romans. In the opening of Chapter 12 Paul urges us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices. Paul is well aware of Roman ways, and reminds these early Christians not to “conform yourselves to this age,” but instead “discern what is the will of God.” We are similarly challenged in our own age. Much of what modern American society preaches and projects runs counter to the Christian message of loving God and loving your neighbor. In a society that values self-interest and personal success, it is hard to explain the joy of living a life of service to others, and in accepting that the neighbor Jesus wants us to love is not necessarily the one we like or even want as our neighbor. Yet even in this age great prophets continue to spread the message of the Lord. Living the Christian life means sacrifice… bearing our own crosses. But Jesus also reminds us that through our suffering there is redemption… That we will be repaid, if not in this life, then the next.