23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

TWO MARKS OF A TRUE DISCIPLE

For couples who have been married for at least 20 year, what made you say that your partner is faithful to you? What are the identifiable indicators of his/her commitment?

Some of the answers would be: Since the time we’re married, my husband never failed to kiss me on the forehead before he goes to sleep… She always cooked my favorite kare-kare on my birthday…. He always accompanied me to Mass and to the cemetery on the death anniversary of my mother.

For married couples, these are some of the signs that their partner is committed and faithful to them. In our Gospel today, Jesus identifies two marks of a faithful and committed follower of him, namely, unequalled love (great love) and sacrifice.

1. Unequalled love is referred to when Jesus said, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, cannot be my disciple.” The text should not be read as anti-family sentiment of Jesus, for Jesus was never against the institution of family. There is no way Jesus would come against the 4th commandment that says, “Honor your father and mother.” Rather, this statement of hate is an exaggerated expression to emphasize the demand for an unequalled love for God. Hence, unequaled love of God is expressed in a disciple’s total commitment to God, one that has no room for compromise and concession. Human experience illustrates this point of unequalled demanded for God.

During the 17th century, Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England, sentenced a soldier to be shot for his crimes. The execution was to take place at the ringing of the evening curfew bell. However, the bell did not sound. The soldier’s fiancé had climbed into the belfry and clung to the great clapper of the bell to prevent it from striking. When she was summoned by Cromwell to account for her actions, she wept as she showed him her bruised and bleeding hands. Cromwell’s heart was touched and he said, “Your lover shall live because of your sacrifice. Curfew shall not ring tonight!”

*

She was lying on the ground. In her arms she held a tiny baby girl. As I put a cooked sweet potato into her outstretched hand, I wondered if she would live until morning. Her strength was almost gone, but her tired eyes acknowledged my gift. The sweet potato could help so little — but it was all I had.

Taking a bite she chewed it carefully. Then, placing her mouth over her baby’s mouth, she forced the soft warm food into the tiny throat. Although the mother was starving, she used the entire potato to keep her baby alive. Exhausted from her effort, she dropped her head on the ground and closed her eyes. In a few minutes the baby was asleep. I later learned that during the night the mother’s heart stopped, but her little girl lived.

How great is that love which is ready to offer all that one has.

Great and unequalled love for God demanded from a disciple is a costly thing. During the infancy stage of Christianity, Christians literally have to give up even their own lives for the faith, and for these we have today martyrs.

2. Sacrifice is behind these words of Jesus, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” To follow Jesus is to take the road less traveled where the terrain is hard and the trails are difficult. There is no easy walk for a Christian. But it must be remembered that, the cross is our salvation. Take the for instance the noted experience of Marcos, nicknamed “The Flea,”

On 19th September 1985 a devastating earthquake struck Mexico City. It killed several thousand people and caused terrible damage. Those who survived dug through the rubble to rescue as many as possible who were trapped beneath the masonry. One man, Marcos, nicknamed ‘The Flea’ because he was so small, less than 1.5m was able to crawl through small openings in the surface and go into cavities in the rubble to rescue people. He helped rescue 27 people.

He had been nicknamed ‘The Flea’ because of his small stature, which must have been hurtful for him, but what was initially a disappointing and disheartening situation for Marcos, a burden he had to carry latter became a source of gratitude for the many people he was able to immediately rescue from the rubbles of the earthquake. Indeed, the cross is our salvation.

The Gospel is strongly and firmly calling us to be committed Christians who love God above all things and are ready to sacrifice their personal convenience. Commitment nowadays is coming to scarcity. The temptation is always to make life easy and convenient at the expense of our valued principles, treasured relationship and faith in Christ.

Nevertheless, it remains that our faithfulness to follow Jesus is measured by our stewardship, mass attendance, fidelity to our husband/wife, honest business practice, accurate tax returns, compassion for the less fortunate, responsible use of our natural resources, advocacy for good governance, fight against corruptions and search for truth and justice in our social affairs. All of these are costly commitments, denying ourselves of the pleasures of the world and a burden on our shoulders that we must carry along. This is the cost of discipleship of which Jesus is asking us to embrace if we want to follow him.

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