Mission Society of the Philippines

Homilies

22nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: THE PRICE OF FOLLOWING JESUS

Mt 16: 21-27
 
"CUSTOMER SATISFACTION" has become an important byword today. Some establishments give quality service for the sake of the customer’s comfort and satisfaction. The three important values in the modern world are, I would say, pleasure, convenience, and comfort. 
 
This standard of the world is a human standard. In the gospel we heard about the distinction between a human standard and a divine standard. We have heard Peter being rebuked by Jesus because his is a human standard, not God’s. Remember, the gospel is a continuation of the passage on Peter’s Confession of Jesus. At Caesarea Philippi, Peter rightly confessed Jesus as “the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” But Peter’s understanding of Jesus’ messiahship is something kingly, glorious, and triumphant. Thus, when Jesus revealed to his disciples that he was to undergo passion and death, the knee-jerk reaction of Peter was “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” As soon as it was said, Jesus rebuked Peter because he could be a hindrance to the plan of God for him. The standard of God is never about pleasure, convenience, and comfort. On the contrary, it is excruciating, inconvenient, and uncomfortable.
 
The incident was an eye-opener and a learning experience for Peter. Peter now has to learn that the standard of God is not about comfort, not about privilege, not about convenience. It is about pain and sacrifice. And Peter was warned by Jesus that he should not be carried away by the standards of this world. In fact, Jesus throws a challenge to His disciples, saying that discipleship demands denial of self, taking up of the cross, and following God's ways. This is the price we have to pay in deciding to follow Jesus. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, this is the “cost of discipleship.” There are three consequences of discipleship:
 
Firstly, we deny ourselves. Self-denial can be one means how we can get out of our own world so that we can open our world to others and to God. In a materialistic world, people tend to be become narcissistic. They consider only their own needs; they buy and buy things only for themselves. I cannot imagine why celebrities have to brag about their collections of shoes, hats, bags, gowns etc. They don’t use them all. In a way, they are simply showing their own world, a “world of oneself”. This is a world which revolves around him/herself. Unfortunately, it is a very, very narrow world. Denying ourselves breaks this narrow world. As soon as we start giving, and reaching out to others and to God, our world starts to become broadened and our own self is being enriched by others and God. Only then we can live in a better world.
 
Secondly, we take up our cross. This could be difficult to do because this value runs counter to the values of the world: pleasure, convenience, and comfort. Certainly, we are not saying that pleasure, convenience, and comfort are not good. These are good in themselves. These are our human longings and certainly, God would also love us to see living a good and comfortable life. However, if these things compromise our way of following Christ, then there comes the problem. Crosses in life abound. They are present in our day-to-day existence. They may appear in a form of illness. They may also appear in a form relational misunderstandings or conflicts. In the name of convenience and comfort, some people may rebel against God because of illness. Or some may withdraw when they are faced with relational problems. For instance, in marital life, a simple misunderstanding already offers discomfort. It’s so sad that the only resort that a husband or a wife knows is separation or divorce. In this case, to take up one’s cross is to face the conflict and find solutions to the problem. Therefore, carrying the cross can be liberating.
 
Thirdly, we follow Jesus. Following Jesus is something definitive and radical. When we follow Him, we follow the total aspects of His person and life. There is no room for “pick and choose” mentality here. We cannot just say that we follow Him in His way of love, but in his way of forgiveness and cross, we would not. This attitude will never make us His true disciples.
 
The gospel calls us to rethink or reflect our following of Jesus. The gospel calls for seriousness in our vocation as Christians. In our life, Christ which must be always seen and this includes the cross of Christ. I would say that pleasure, convenience, and comfort should not be seen as an end. Although heaven has been described as "bliss", but we would compromise our discipleship. In the final analysis, life has taught us that sacrifice and pain are a means to attaining glory. No pain, no gain! Amen.

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