Saturday, September 3, 2016

The End is Near!


Two priests were fishing on the side of the road one day. They made a sign saying, “The End is Near! Turn around now before it’s too late!” and showed it to each passing car. One driver didn’t appreciate the sign and shouted, “Leave us alone, you religious nuts!” All of a sudden the priests heard a big splash and looked at each other. Then the one holding the sign said, “Maybe it should just say ‘Bridge Out’?” Sometimes the words we choose can be shocking.

In our Gospel today, Jesus also uses some shocking language to get our attention. He says, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” These are jarring words to our ears. Hate our father and mother? What about the Commandment which call us not to hate, but to “Honor your mother and father?” Of course, Jesus is not instructing us to hate our families, rather, He’s trying to get us to wake up; He’s trying to shake us up so that we might embrace the full impact of His message of the Kingdom of God. Jesus wants to get our attention and so he says these shocking words. Are we listening?

Our world is often obsessed with wealth and competition; it’s full of violence and war. We usually refer to this as the “real” world. And if someone were to suggest that instead of power, money and fame, we can live lives guided by peace, love, joy, compassion, and forgiveness, they would probably be called a religious nut. But, Jesus reminded us that the supposedly “real” world is actually an illusion; it is phony; it is full of false hopes and promises. He calls us to instead be immersed in the world that he calls so often the Kingdom of God. His strategy? Well, in today’s passage, it is spiritual shock therapy. Jesus wants to shake us out of our complacency and into a whole new way of thinking, acting, and being.

When I was stationed here, one of the great things we did was bring a group of young people to World Youth Day in Germany. I remember at that event a group of young people were passing out stickers that said, “100% Catholic.” It is such a beautiful thought, but how many of us lead lives that are more like 80% Catholic, 50%, or sometimes even less? Jesus wants to remind us today that we cannot follow Him half way. Discipleship, Christianity, Catholicism is meant to be all or nothing.

This is the point of His shocking words to us today. If we’re going to follow Jesus, He wants us to go with Him the whole way. We can’t stop at His preaching and miracles and leave Him when it comes to the Cross. We’ll never reach resurrection unless we’re along for the whole journey. We have to accept His way of seeing life and put that into practice in the way we live. Jesus and His Gospel message have to be the number one priority in our lives.

The only status that counts is our relationship with God and how we relate with other people, irrespective of their status in the world. Our real status is measured not by our rank or occupation but by the level of love and service offered to God through our relationships with those around us. What counts is not how we are looked at by others but the degree of care and compassion with which we look at them, and especially the care and compassion we show for the most marginalized people in our midst.

That is the meaning of the two parables Jesus gives today. “Great crowds” were following Jesus with enthusiasm but were they ready for His message? Did they realize what it really meant to follow Him? If not, they are like the king who goes out to war totally unprepared. They are like a man who started to build a tower and ran out of funds or material. They become laughing stocks; inauthentic. If we try to walk with Jesus without being ready to commit; we too will miss the joy and happiness of the totally fulfilled life that Jesus is offering us.

Jesus tells us today that to be his disciple is to make every other thing in life – family or wealth, prosperity or health, pleasure or fame – second to Him. He means that on the list of our goals and priorities in life, attaining the kingdom of God must come first and then everything else will follow. It is a matter of life and death. He, and only He, is the way, the truth and the life.

Today’s gospel shows us how complete the demands of discipleship are. Following Jesus is much harder than we may have thought at first. The Good News is that Jesus recognizes this and still invites us on this journey with Him. If we’re ready to go with Him, it will change our lives and change our world.

Let us make the simple, powerful words of St. Francis our own: “Jesus, You are enough for me.” Let us be His disciples – completely.

May the Lord give you peace.

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