23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Tough Choices
The Scripture Readings for these last few weeks are right on the mark. Jesus is on the final leg of his mission. He tells His followers to get ready. They are "going up to Jerusalem." He - and they - are about to be put to the test. It will not be easy. There will be contradiction and frustration. It will be a matter of dying to self, tending to the "poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind." It will be a matter of putting things into proper perspective, and starting out on the right foot.
Beneath the surface of our lives as Christians, this same challenge is played out again. We will be tested as a faith community. Jesus will ask us to walk in His footsteps, to take our place among the ranks, to follow the narrow road, to meet with opposition and misunderstanding - perhaps even from our own families and those who love us - and, in many ways, to take up our crosses and die with Him. This certainly doesn't sound like much of a "privilege."
But we should be clear about our identity and our choices. We need to grow constantly in our understanding of Christian discipleship. We need to take ownership of our faith, and become willing and generous followers of our crucified and risen Lord. Privilege has a place in the Christian life, but it has nothing to do with stature and prestige. It has everything to do with being an active instrument of God in the society in which we live.
Our "privileges" extend only so far as our willingness to proclaim that the message is more important than the one who delivers it, understanding that true power rests in humble and generous hearts, and realizing that no matter how far we have come in the Christian life, there are many more miles to travel.
Accepting this brings new opportunities for growth and change. Our Church is, and has been, in the midst of a critical period of growth and renewal. To so many, the changes are uncomfortable, even threatening. We find ourselves divided, torn by hostility, and accusations of disobedience and disloyalty. In so many ways, the Spirit is stifled by blind opposition to change, or by stubborn rejection of traditional moderation. For so many, there is no longer joy in the family of the church. So many see little to be thankful for. These attitudes are born from an elitist perspective of "privilege," and they destroy the Christian spirit of service, expectation and hope.
Living our lives in the spirit of the Gosspel means continually "starting over." And that is a challenge for both leaders and followers. Every member of the Christian community contributes to the quality of our faith, our worship, our teaching, and our service. Each of us must reexamine our own commitment to the Christian life. In truth, discipleship is participating with Christ in salvation history: we are the instruments through which God's work on earth is accomplished. This is a constant process of reminding ourselves that the "first shall be last and the last, first."
How do we contribute to the vitality and growth of our Church? How do we add to the beauty and vigor of our prayer and liturgies? How much time do we give to our spiritual lives and to the spiritual needs of others? How do we share in the common tasks of inviting, welcoming, evangelizing, teaching, caring for and serving those in need?
Today's Gospel present us with a harsh metaphor, which suggests the arduous efforts and even pain sometimes asked of disciples. Even though we have already given our “Yes” to following Christ, there are times in our lives when we are asked to make choices that put our discipleship on the line. Some options require us to say “No” to what seems like attractive or easier ways of acting. These choices may put us at odds with family, friends or our surrounding culture; but we know we must choose in ways that echo the Gospel we believe.
We Christians are in a building process, the job feels half done at times as we look at our shortcomings and inadequacies in discipleship. We are not yet the model, generous and self-sacrificing disciples that we ought to be and there is more to be done on the project.
Today, Jesus is described in heroic terms, and he is calling for heroic activity; not athletic achievements, or the accumulation of wealth for others to admire and envy, but the giving of one's life to something bigger than what is immediately obvious. He is saying that to follow him calls for a full-time commitment, with no backing out when the going gets tough.
And he suggests we consider the costs.