Just before the beginning of today’s gospel, he tells the disciples in detail some of the key implications of their task as presenting God’s reign to the people. It is clear that they are going to have to be very well prepared and nothing must hold them back from their missionary task. Then our gospel passage begins by addressing the integrity with which the disciples are to go about their task of preaching. Nothing must hold them back even the most loving relationships that make up their family circle. They are to love God above all: above mother and father, sister and brother and the other members of their households.
Wow! That’s a startling message, to be sure. It is part of the fundamental paradox of following Jesus. This is but one example of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. The demand here even extends to one’s very own self: “whoever finds his life will lose it. And whoever loses his live for my sake will find it.” That is indeed a radical message, one that we may not like to hear but hear it we must. It is one of those passages of scripture that challenges us to the core if we desire to be a disciple today and to follow in Jesus’ footsteps.
If I look only at myself and my abilities, I am confronted squarely with the difficulties (even impossibilities) of the demand expressed here today. How possibly could I do this? Fortunately, it is not up to me to do this all alone. The disciples were not alone. They had one another. And the most fundamental truth is that they had Jesus’ spirit with them as they undertook the hard task of preaching the reign of God.
And that’s where we come in also. We are not alone by any means. And that makes all the difference in the world. The disciples were disciples precisely because Jesus called them to be that. It really wasn’t up to them; it was up to Jesus through his call to supply for them what they needed in any and all situations they would face as his followers. So, too, with us (we who desire contemporary discipleship); we are called to that service by Christ himself, and he will not leave us alone to our own devices, but has armed us mightily with his own strength and the Spirit’s inspiration.
What are those experiences in our lives that we may tend to shrink from that call on us to be His disciples? Do they have to do with inter-relationships with our family? Our work? Our friends? Our neighbors? Confounding situations we find ourselves in? In all of those complex human interactions that want to throw us into fear and anxiety, that we tend to want to avoid and are the heart of our struggle as contemporary disciples, we are called to recognize and acknowledge that we are not alone, that Jesus was there before us in extremely difficult human experiences, and he promises not to let us alone in our struggles. And what a blessing that is!
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