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Monday, September 4, 2017

The Cost of Discipleship

Sermon by Fr. Joseph Mungai, FMH
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sept. 3, 2017
St. John the Apostle Awasi Catholic Church, Kisumu Archdiocese, Kenya

Years ago, when Poland was still under Communist control, the Prime Minister ordered the crucifixes removed from
classroom walls. Catholic Bishops attacked the ban, which had stirred waves of anger and resentment all across Poland. 

Ultimately the government relented, insisting that the law remain on the books, but agreeing not to press for removal of the crucifixes, particularly in the schoolrooms. But one zealous Communist school administrator, the director of the Mietnow agricultural college, Ryszard Dobrynski, took the crosses down from his seven lecture halls where they had hung since the school's founding in the twenties. 

Days later, a group of parents entered the school and hung more crosses. The administrator promptly had these taken down as well. 

The next day two-thirds of the school's six hundred students staged a sit-in. When heavily armed riot police arrived, the students were forced into the streets. Then they marched, crucifixes held high, to a nearby Church where they were joined by twenty-five hundred other students from nearby schools for a morning of prayer in support of the
protest. Soldiers surrounded the Church. But the press was there as well, and pictures from inside of students holding crosses high above their heads flashed around the world. So did the words of the priest who delivered the message to the weeping congregation that morning. "There is no Poland without the cross."

Perhaps the cross has come to symbolize something easy to us because we have not had to sacrifice for our faith in our lives. The more we are called upon to carry our own crosses, the more we will understand the cross Our Savior carried to the hill called Golgotha. That is why today’s gospel challenges us to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow Jesus. (Mt 16: 21-27)
"Customer Satisfaction" has become an important word today. The modern world values three things: pleasure, convenience, and comfort. This is a human standard. 

In today's gospel we heard about two standards -- human and divine. Peter took Jesus aside and and rebuked Him for speaking of  His future suffering and death. Jesus' response is "Get thee behind me, Satan! . . . You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."

At Caesarea Philippi, Peter rightly confessed "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." (Matt 16:16) 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. 

Early Christian theologian Origen suggests that Jesus was saying to Peter: "Peter, your place is behind me, not in front of me. It's your job to follow me in the way I choose, not to try to lead me in the way you would like me to go." Satan is banished from the presence of Christ, and Peter is recalled as Christ's follower. Like Peter, the Church is often tempted to judge the success or failure of her ministry by the world’s standards. But Jesus teaches that worldly success is not always the Christian way. The standard of God is never about pleasure, convenience, and comfort. On the contrary, it is sometimes excruciating, inconvenient, and uncomfortable.

The incident was an eye-opener for Peter. Peter now has to learn that the standard of
God is not about comfort, not about privilege, not about convenience. It is often about pain and sacrifice. This is the cost of discipleship. 

There are three consequences of discipleship. First, self-denial, which is a means of opening our world to others and to God.  In a world devoted only to materialism, people tend to be become very self-absorbed. 

Second, we take up our cross. This value is difficult for the modern world to absorb because we are used to being comfortable. 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 resolution for conflict that a husband or a wife knows is divorce. One must instead take up the cross and face the conflict. Find solutions to the problem. Carrying the cross can be liberating.

Third, 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 not in His way of forgiveness or accepting the cross. This attitude will never make us His true disciples.

The gospel calls us to take seriously our  vocation as Christians. Pleasure, convenience, and comfort is not the end of our lives.  In the final analysis, life has taught us that sacrifice and pain are sometimes necessary, and a means to attaining glory. Amen.

(Say a prayer for my mum Lucy, to have a speedy recovery).
Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

*Fr. Joe Mungai, FMH, is a Franciscan Missionary of Hope, a relatively new congregation started in Nairobi, Kenya in 1993. He was ordained June 7, 2014. 

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