By the Rev. Darren Miner
In last week’s Gospel reading, Jesus summoned the Twelve Apostles and sent them out to proclaim the Good News to the lost sheep of Israel, to heal the sick, to cast out demons, to cleanse the lepers, and even to raise the dead. Before sending them on their way, he instructed them. Today’s Gospel reading is a continuation of that instruction.
Now, Jesus’ words are meant to give encouragement to the Twelve, and to us. But the great demands he makes of his disciples just might have the opposite effect. For unless our faith is strong, the costs of discipleship that Jesus warns about might overwhelm us.
Jesus begins by telling the Twelve to expect no better treatment that he has received. In other words, they should expect to be mistreated and threatened and lied about. Even so, he urges his disciples to have no fear, but to proceed with their mission at any cost. They are not to fear those who can destroy their physical bodies. They are to fear the One who can destroy both their bodies and their souls, that is, the Lord God.
Jesus solemnly promises his disciples that if they are willing to accept the cost of discipleship and are willing to publicly acknowledge Jesus, even at the risk of their lives, they will be rewarded by God. Conversely, disciples who, for whatever reason, fail to proclaim their faith will be denied by God. Think about that for just a moment! When was the last time that you spoke about your faith in Jesus Christ to a friend or family member, let alone to a total stranger?
Elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus speaks of the eternal peace of the Kingdom of God, and he bestows peace upon his disciples as his final blessing. But here, he tells his disciples not to expect peace, but the sword of discord and division, even within their own families. Here, Jesus requires us to make a very difficult choice, to rank loyalty to God above every other loyalty, including loyalty to race, country, ethnicity, party affiliation, and family. Jesus’ language is hyperbolic; he uses exaggeration for rhetorical effect. But he really does mean that we all have to choose!
Here is a case in point. One division that we are all well aware of today is the political division of this nation. Democrats and Republicans don’t seem to see eye to eye on anything. Well, what would Jesus say? He would say put loyalty to God above loyalty to party. More specifically, what would Jesus say about stricter immigration policy, tax cuts for the rich, reductions in entitlement programs for the old and the poor, and cutting back on government-supported health care? Well, I think that I can answer that question, for Jesus spoke often of such things. He said to welcome the stranger. He told the rich to give their money to the poor. And he told his disciples to care for the elderly, feed the hungry, and heal the sick.
Yes, there is a real cost to obeying Jesus’ commands. But who said that discipleship comes without a cost? Certainly, not Jesus! He told his disciples to take up the cross and follow him. And he didn’t just mean to wear a small gold cross around your neck. He meant that every Christian should be willing to forge ahead, proclaiming the Good News and helping those in need, even if it requires self-denial and self-sacrifice, even if it requires dying an agonizing death nailed to a cross.
It is highly unlikely that any in this parish will ever face martyrdom on a cross. But that is not to say that we don’t each have our own cross to bear! For many here, the cross you are asked to bear is the cross of old age, the cross of chronic illness, the cross of loneliness, the cross of grief, the cross of depression. For those here with daily pain, you know better than I do just how spiritually debilitating it can be. It would be all too easy just to stay home and give up on working for God’s Kingdom. For those here who are past retirement age—and that includes almost everyone in the pews!—you just might be tempted to accept this culture’s judgment that you no longer have anything worthwhile to offer; you might be tempted to turn inward and cut yourself off from others. And when you are so old or ill that you are housebound most of the time and the only real ministry you can still perform is prayer for this broken world, you just might doubt whether your little prayers really make a difference.
Well, folks, if any of this sounds familiar, you have discovered the cross you have to bear. Lest you despair, I’ll let you in on a little secret of the Gospels. You don’t have to bear your cross on your own. Even Jesus himself needed the help of Simon of Cyrene to bear his cross. So when you get to the point that you find yourself stumbling and falling on the path of discipleship, know that you can turn to your companions in the faith to help take up your burden.
Lastly, brothers and sisters, as we struggle to bear our cross and to be faithful disciples of Jesus, let us always keep in mind the promised reward for all our efforts. For the final destination of the Way of the Cross is none other than the Kingdom of Heaven. As disciples of the Christ, we may not know peace in this world, but in the next world, we most surely will. And I, for one, am looking forward with great anticipation to that “peace of God, which passes all understanding”!
© 2017 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.