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What does Christian discipleship entail?

Homily for 22nd Sunday in Ordinary time year A 2014

Few weeks ago, a parishioner came to me thanking for my prayers for her son. She was very thankful because as she said, her son’s mental health has been restored to its original health. I said to her: ‘It’s not me who’s done it. It’s the one who looks after us from above.’ I just felt so privileged to be a witness to God’s wonderful work. This is the beauty of Christian discipleship. If we follow Christ closely and listen to his words attentively, we would see with the eyes of our faith, what God is doing right before us, right in our day and age.

However, Christian discipleship is not only about feeling awe and wonder of our God. It is not only about watching Jesus performing miracles. It is not just about recognizing Jesus as the Christ, the messiah, the Son of the living God as Jesus would show to Simon Peter as in last week’s gospel wherein Jesus ‘ordained’ as the rock upon whom he would build his Church. It is also not about a promotion in the case of Peter, from being a fisherman to being the first Pope in the Church. Rather as in today’s Gospel, Christian discipleship is also ‘denying ourselves, taking up of our cross, and following Christ.’

  • What does it mean to follow Christ today?

First, getting behind Christ. Jesus is very strong on this. In last week’s gospel, he called Peter the rock, but this week’s gospel (Mat 16:21-27), he called him ‘Satan’ not because Peter was possessed but because, Peter was trying to get in the way of God. In a way Peter was telling God what to do. Peter was looking at things only from the human perspective and expectations. He was expecting of a messiah who is invincible, powerful and strong. But when Jesus told him that He had to go through suffering, trial and eventually death, Peter tried to hinder the way of Jesus because his expectations of a messiah was challenged. From being rock that serves as the foundation, he became the rock that stumbles. How many times when we are challenged by the message of Jesus and we think we couldn’t take it, we tend to deny him, or set him aside, or took no notice of his words?

How many times we are like this? When things are on our side and are going on our advantage, we take the credit to ourselves, but when things don’t go our way, we blame God. I’m actually caught up with this these past few days. As I have mentioned above, I felt good to know the person I’m praying for got on so well. I felt good to know my prayers are being answered. But when I learned of my eldest sister’s death, (one whom I have been praying for, for a while now), I somehow put the blame on God, on why did he answer my prayer for other people and he didn’t answer my prayer (or what I expect to be) for my sister. Upon reflecting this gospel though, I realize I should not be telling  God what  to do. He knows best, I believe. Rather I should just be getting behind Christ and seeking comfort and wisdom from his words.

Getting behind Christ therefore means we learn from him, as he lived his life in relationship with his Father (constant prayer and communication), in relationship with his disciples (listening and understanding their weaknesses and limitations, at the same time encouraging them to make good use of them for the kingdom) and in relationship with other people (by being sensitive to their needs and doing something for them).

Second, as St Paul would urge us in the Second reading (Rom 12:1-2): Let us not model ourselves on the behaviour of the world. Let us live our lives not based on the standards of the world, or the expectations of the world, but on the world to come. This is a big challenge, because the world always offers for us an easy, immediate and seemingly beautiful alternatives or options to live our lives: leisure, power, money, influence, security. These can sometimes take us away from Christ, because of their momentarily promise of gratification. As Christians though, we need to understand there is more to life than money, or power or wealth. Christ has shown us that there is life after this. So as early as now, let us long for that life and start living lives worthy for the eternal life.

Third, like Jeremiah in the First Reading (Jer 20:7-9), we continue to preach the message of God to the people around us, through our lives. lifestyle and our dealings with one another. People might not like us if we do live it out. Well, in Jesus’ time, many people didn’t like him, his words, and his ways either. Yet, He knows what he’s up to and he’s sticking to it no matter what. As Christians, followers we are also expected to know what we are up to. We are up to eternal life, happiness forever, life in heaven, being a worthy citizen of the kingdom of God, and let’s stick on to it by living our lives as signs and symbols of the kingdom to come. We can do this by continually bringing Christ to others and by striving to bring others to Christ. People might criticise us, as they did to Christ, but we must never stop, nor discouraged, nor feeling hopeless, because it is not for our sake, but for the sake of life with God forever. Yes, the horrible events happening in the Church could sometimes make us question our faith, discourage us, disappoint us, or disillusion us, but Pope Francis, has this encouragement for us, in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). The Pope wrote: ‘The evils of our world- and those of the Church, must not be excuses for diminishing our commitment and fervour. Let us look upon them as challenges which can help us to grow. With the eyes of faith, we can see the light which the Holy Spirit radiates in the midst of darkness, never forgetting that ‘where sin increase, grace has abounded all the more’ (Rom 5:20) (EG 84).

So as we continue our celebration of the Eucharist today let us ask ourselves: As a disciple of Christ, are we living out the Christian values and promoting the Christian ideals and aspirations?

If so, then let us show it in our lives. Amen.

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